Why I’m Following Bill Gates on Instagram

By Lisa Rotondo, Director, ENVISION project. Twitter Handle: @lisarotondo.

There’s a new addition to the world of Instagram and he’s gotten more than 276,000 followers in just one week. You may not have seen the news on Forbes, CNET, or CNBC, but the new Instagrammer is Bill Gates and he’s now posting via @thisisbillgates.

Why does this matter to me? His first photo came from Kicheba Primary School in Muheza, Tanzania. While you may see a billionaire having lunch with schoolchildren, I see something much more exciting. The photo was taken during the time of a medicine distribution campaign for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). In fact, in May I was also in Tanzania with colleagues from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), eating the same beans and maize with schoolchildren during an NTD treatment campaign. To me, this moment represents the culmination of many things.

First, his post illustrates the longtime advocacy of a variety of generous donors like USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, to fund and advocate for global elimination of these debilitating diseases. The U.S. Government, through USAID, has been a long-time supporter of Tanzania’s NTD program, including the treatment campaign that Mr. Gates observed.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it shows one of the world’s best-known philanthropists witnessing the heart of Tanzania’s national NTD program. Mr. Gates’ second photo shows him learning about NTDs from Dr. Upendo Mwingira, Tanzania NTD Program Manager.

Through my role at RTI International as Director for USAID’s ENVISION Project, I have the immense pleasure of working with Dr. Upendo and her team. She has been incredibly successful at ensuring Tanzanian citizens no longer suffer from these diseases. In 2016, for the first time, Tanzania was able to reach all people at-risk for seven of the most common NTDs. Recent surveys show considerable progress in reducing the burden of lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and trachoma, with more than 15 million people no longer at risk for one or both of these diseases.

Lisa Rotondo visiting schools in Tanzania to observe progress against NTDs.

In a place like Tanzania, with a passionate visionary like Upendo at the helm, progress to achieve global NTD elimination goals is real and measurable. I’m thrilled that Mr. Gates was able to observe firsthand the success and impact of this work and the dedication of the hundreds of thousands of health workers fighting NTDs globally. For those at Kicheba Primary School and so many others in the world, it’s making all the difference.

For more information on RTI’s work fighting neglected tropical diseases, please visit our project website and follow the NTDs team on Twitter.

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