Mural with a message: Using art to tell the NTD story in Guinea
M’baye “Léfa” Aissatou and Diaw Omar Chimere
M’baye “Léfa” Aissatou and Diaw Omar Chimere. USAID's Act to End NTDs | West, Helen Keller Intl, Guinea

M’baye “Léfa” Aissatou and Diaw Omar Chimere are talented artists who have found an innovative way to combine their work with their passion for improving the health of the people of Guinea. Their love for painting dates back to early childhood, when they used to sketch out every idea that came to mind. Yet, they remember a time when it was hard to find the energy to sketch. That was when they were sick with a neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused by soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections (intestinal worms), which both suffered from at one point in their lives. Fortunately, both recovered after receiving safe, effective treatments, but being sick taught them how hard it is to do anything—even the things that you love—when you’re suffering from a debilitating NTD. NTDs can cause agonizing symptoms ranging from severe abdominal pain and bloody stools to irreversible physical and cognitive growth and development impairments, in the case of heavy STH infections, for example. 

As Léfa and Diaw grew up and became close friends, they would occasionally travel together on trips around West Africa. On one of these trips, they spotted an amazing mural in Dakar, Senegal, which sparked an idea—what if they transformed their sketches into large scale murals to help people understand how to tackle tough health problems? Back in Guinea, they quickly started working to develop their new initiative, which they called The Guinea Challenge, with the aim of increasing peoples’ awareness about health problems. With their own funding, they created several murals in Conakry, the capital, which received significant public support.

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How contaminated water can spread schistosomiasis. PC: USAID's Act to End NTDs | West, Helen Keller Intl, Guinea

Because their work has received so much public attention, Guinea’s National NTD Program (NTDP), with support from USAID’s Act to End NTDs | West Program (Act | West), implemented by Helen Keller Intl; collaborated with the Guinea Challenge artists to design a 15-meter-long mural fresco showcasing NTD prevention methods to mark the second annual World NTD Day on January 30, 2021. Before beginning the work, the artists did extensive research on NTDs—including STH, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, trachoma and lymphatic filariasis (also called ‘elephantiasis’)—and how to treat and prevent them.

 “We learned that NTDs mostly affect poor, marginalized people. They hurt people’s health and also have large, negative socio-economic consequences,” Léfa explained. “Learning about NTDs had a big impact on us because not only did we ourselves suffer from STH when we were younger, we also know people who are close to us who are suffer[ing] from elephantiasis."

How flies can spread trachoma, which can devastate the eyes
How flies can spread trachoma, which can devastate the eyes. PC: USAID's Act to End NTDs | West, Helen Keller Intl, Guinea

The artists used this knowledge to convey strong messages, communicated through the colorful artwork in their mural, to raise awareness about NTDs, which are considered a public health problem in Guinea. The mural doesn’t just get people’s attention, it also serves as an important avenue to reach and inform one of the NTDP’s key target audiences—people who cannot read.

“The new murals provide significant visibility to the work done to fight against NTDs in Guinea, helping to reduce the neglect,” said Act | West Guinea Program Manager Fatou Gueye. “The murals have garnered widespread attention in Guinea, especially among Internet users.”

For their part, the artists say that working on the World NTD Day murals has awakened their personal interest in these diseases.

“Now that we know a little about NTDs, we are committed, through our art, to fight the neglect attributed to these diseases, which are still covered in a cloak of silence in some communities, due to the lack of knowledge of the causes and means of control,” said Diaw. “The comments that we’ve received during and after the completion of these murals from passers-by and internet users reinforce our conviction that our communication strategy is effective and has not gone unnoticed.”

 

 

 

 

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How lymphatic filariasis can be transmitted by mosquitos. PC: USAID's Act to End NTDs | West, Helen Keller Intl, Guinea
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M’baye “Léfa” Aissatou stands by mural. PC: USAID's Act to End NTDs | West, Helen Keller Intl, Guinea