Tukahebwa has dedicated her career to tackling NTDs. She ensured Uganda introduced an integrated approach to tackling NTDs.
Edridah Muheki Tukahebwa from Bulindo, Kampala and Grace Aciro Oyat from Abera, Lamwo, were unveiled as the big winners at last night’s Women in Focus Awards – a prestigious international initiative celebrating the crucial role women play in the ongoing fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Aciro, 45, beat off stiff competition from females around the world to scoop the coveted Women in Focus Inspirational Award, while fellow Ugandan Tukahebwa, 51, was awarded the Women in Focus Leadership Award (in honour of Likezo Mubila).
Both health workers were invited to accept their trophies at a prominent awards ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland.
Dr. Wendy Harrison, Chair of the NNN, says: “We are thrilled to shine a light on women from all over the world who are making a remarkable impact on tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases. It is an honour to acknowledge Aciro and Tukahebwa for the inspirational work they are doing in Uganda. The standard of entries in the competition was incredibly high so they should be justifiably proud of their achievements.”
Tukahebwa has dedicated her career to tackling NTDs, working for over 20 years in the field. With Tukahebwa’s help, Uganda became one of the first countries to introduce an integrated approach to tackling NTDs, not just stand alone programmes.
She operates an open door policy and makes sure that opportunities are provided to more junior staff so that they too can build their skills and strengthen work in NTDs across Uganda. Tukahebwa is often seen working in the field and her top priority is always the health and safety of Ugandans which she places ahead of her own personal gain.
Tukahebwa works in the Vector Control Division at the Ministry of Health in Uganda and is also a WHO advisor for Ghana and Eritrea.
Aciro has shown equal commitment and dedication at a more grassroots level. Aciro began volunteering as a community drug distributor in 2007. This was during a challenging period of LRA insurgency in Uganda, which saw large populations living in congested camps, occupied by internally displaced persons.
Aciro was the only woman working in these hard to reach conflict affected areas. When her son was affected by river blindness, Aciro’s family wanted him to be treated with traditional medicine, but Aciro ensured that her son was treated with Mectizan and by treating her own son, she gained the trust of her community.
Aciro realised that her son was suffering from river blindness through the knowledge she had gained whilst volunteering in the river blindness program, going on to inspire others to volunteer in a similar vital role. Aciro has spearheaded health education campaigns and helped establish outreach posts for the assessment of children affected by neglected tropical diseases.
Although unable to attend the ceremony, Grace was delighted by her win. She says: “This is not an award for me but for all women in poor countries like Uganda who bear the burden of taking care of people affected by NTDs.
Women often suffer stigma and rejection as a result of their condition and many are left to cope on their own. Young girls are especially at risk as they can become easy targets of rape and unplanned pregnancies are common. I am delighted and humbled to receive this award and so grateful to have the opportunity to talk about what I, and so many other women, have been facing in Uganda.”
Tukahebwa, added: “I am so encouraged by this recognition and feel highly appreciated. This is such an amazing incentive because it mirrors the teamwork we have built in Uganda as an NTD family. I am very grateful to have been nominated and to the people who decided I should win.”
As 2017 marks the 5th anniversary of the World Health Organization's roadmap on NTDs and the London Declaration, the Women in Focus awards celebrate this milestone by shining a light on the inspirational women working behind the scenes helping to control, eliminate and eradicate 10 neglected tropical diseases.
The Women in Focus Awards form part of the NTD summit taking place in Geneva 19-22 April 2017. The overall winner will be announced at a prestigious ceremony on April 19.