Pushing Against River Blindness and Snail Fever: HPC Fellow, Yasmine Aicha Salle, The Task Force for Global Health

Yasmine Aicha Salle is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with The Task Force for Global Health. At The Task Force for Global Health, Yasmine enhanced her research skills through processing and analyzing dried blood spot and black fly samples in WHO’s ESPEN laboratory. Read on to learn about her placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

Sight is probably the most important sense of all the five. Figuratively, “You can see what is coming.” In this context, it can be a very rude awakening if one was to be confronted with imminent blindness. Worse, if such blindness can be avoided and yet fate swipes away such a chance, then the pain is immeasurable. This is what communities in onchocerciasis endemic regions live dreading. For them, it is only a matter of time before they are plunged into permanent darkness. The elimination of onchocerciasis in Africa was not perceived to be feasible until relatively recently. However, after some successes in the Americas, interests grew in Africa and work began to determine if the disease could be eliminated in this continent as well. I have always wondered how I could help to attain this goal; even just a little bit. Therefore, when I got an opportunity to apply for the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program through the Task Force for Global Health, I knew my chance had come. I was overjoyed and worked extremely hard to learn as much as I could about the efforts to eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). I quickly appreciated the importance of accurate and timely diagnosis for onchocerciasis, which as a major factor in informed decision-making for mass drug administration (MDA), in the light of its interruption and subsequent elimination.

During my internship at the WHO’s ESPEN laboratory, in Ouagadougou, I worked as a research technician on molecular and serological diagnosis of NTDs. I have learnt and mastered all-important molecular and serological assays performed in the lab. Specifically, I processed and analyzed more than 60,000 dried blood spots by the ELISA method from several countries in West Africa where Onchocerciasis is endemic. Additionally, I processed more than 170,000 black fly samples by a molecular pool-screening methodology. These analyses were important for country decision making to either continue or stop mass drug administration and for Onchocerciasis Elimination Mapping (OEM). Working at ESPEN has transformed me from an intern to a professional biologist. My mentors played a big part in this transformation.

The old English adage goes “a leader is born not made.” I might beg to differ with this adage. In the short time I have been a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow, I have transformed into a budding leader. I have been mentored well and shown how to lead. One time when most of the staff had gone for missions out of the country, I led the lab and made sure work went on just fine. I also helped coordinate schistosomiasis vector sites prospection between the ESPEN lab and the Burkina Faso ministry of health. This is the time I learnt that leaders can be made. It is apparent that I am on a leadership course. Before I started at ESPEN, I had not experienced communities directly using river and pond waters for their daily needs including cooking, washing clothes and bathing. Moreover, children are still defecating near the rivers and playing in the water! This was the reality I faced during our tour for prospection of schistosomiasis vector breeding sites. I was shocked about that, and I got motivated to help these communities access decent healthcare.     

To say the least, I have gained valuable work and life experience during the short time I have worked at the ESPEN laboratory in Ouagadougou. I have been greatly challenged and motivated at the same time. In fact, I have enjoyed my time as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow. I am so grateful to the Hilton Prize Coalition and the Task Force for Global Health for this opportunity and their continual support.

(Photos courtesy of The Task Force for Global Health: Human activities on the banks of a small river in Panamasso, Bobo-Dioulasso (BURKINA FASO))

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. The Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact  prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and  LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

Subscribe to the HPC Newsletter