Omorodion Rhoda Omoile reflects on her experience engaging with the Global Road Map to Defeat Meningitis by 2030
Omorodion Rhoda is a patient advocate and social entrepreneur based in Nigeria. Her organisation, Care and Development Centre (CADEC) is dedicated to raising awareness about meningitis and advocating for better aftercare and support for people living with sequelae caused by the disease.
Rhoda is also the Africa Regional Coordinator for the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO). In this role, she supports regional members and shares opportunities.
In this guest blog post, we invited Rhoda to share her experience engaging in the World Health Organization’s Defeating Meningitis by 2030 Global Road Map.
Nigeria is part of the African Meningitis Belt, a string of 26 countries that experience the highest burden of disease and are at increased risk of epidemics. From 1st October 2022 to 16th April 2023, Nigeria reported a total of 1,686 cases of meningitis, including 124 deaths.
The start of my journey and launch of the Global Road Map
My journey began in 2019 when the World Health Organization (WHO) invited me to attend a 3-day meeting at the Wellcome Trust in London. Together with other representatives from governments, global health organisations, academia, the private sector and civil society organisations, we identified the activities and milestones required to defeat meningitis.
The following year, the Defeating Meningitis by 2030 Global Road Map was approved by the seventy-third session of the World Health Assembly (resolution WHA73.9). This felt great and I was super excited. It proved to me that there is indeed a global plan to truly defeat meningitis.
To commemorate the launch, I joined other CoMO members to develop artwork that creatively expressed the impact of meningitis. CADEC’s submission features Favour, a meningitis survivor who experienced limb loss. As I said at the time, “Nobody deserves the trauma associated with meningitis. Having lost her limbs to meningitis as a teenager, poor Favour finds it difficult to fully support her children…. Favour wants meningitis defeated so that no one else would go through the traumatic experiences which she has undergone and [is] still going through.”
Playing my part in the launch of a Regional Strategic Plan for Africa
In 2022, the Regional Strategic Plan for Africa was launched. Celebrating the news, I joined Dr Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, and Professor Marc LaForce, Director of Technical Services at Serum Institute of India, to present at a virtual press conference. This was one of the most exciting moments of my journey as a patient advocate. I spoke on the need to amplify awareness about meningitis and provide support for meningitis survivors and their caregivers. I also emphasised the essential role that civil society organisations can play in the race to defeat meningitis.
I believe civil society organisations need to be highly recognised because they provide a direct link to communities; they are the closest to the people. As illustrated by work in other disease areas, like malaria, civil society organisations can connect with hard-to-reach localities and are staffed by people with so much dedication and passion. They often achieve incredible results with limited budgets, but that does not mean that funding is not a significant challenge. Many organisations would like to be part of Road Map processes but are challenged by the cost of getting involved.
Playing my part in the development of national plans for meningitis
Following the launch of the regional strategy, the next step was for countries to develop national strategic plans, responding to their individual needs and priorities. This process was set in motion with a series of workshops held by the WHO Regional Office. Fifteen countries were invited to participate in each workshop, devoting time to interrogating what was needed to address meningitis in their context.
With Brian Davies, Advocacy and Engagement Manager at Meningitis Research Foundation, I supported WHO in facilitating these workshops. We were assigned countries to work with directly and also gave a presentation on the need for stakeholders to work together to defeat meningitis by 2030. As with the regional launch, my aim was to champion the needs of meningitis survivors and ensure the relevance of civil society organisations was not missed out of national plans.
My advice to other civil society organisations
My advice for other civil society organisations invited to participate in such a workshop would be as follows. First, come equipped with testimonies from people affected by meningitis (these could be written or video clips, for example). This gives a human-impact explanation of your experiences with meningitis survivors and their caregivers. Second would be to ensure engagement with civil society is explicitly added into national plans. This is a very critical point because most sectors and government agencies are not in tune with locals, including vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities. Rather, it is civil society organisations that can reach these people and understand their needs.
After each workshop, countries travelled home and worked to finalise their strategy. During the November workshop, I connected with the team responsible for this process in my country, from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. I was able to contribute to the creation of Nigeria’s national plan by participating in brainstorming sessions that were held in Kano State, Nigeria and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. As above, my advice for other organisations attending similar meetings is to make a conscious effort to ensure the role of civil society organisations are keyed into strategic plans.
Overall, if you want to increase your engagement with the Global Road Map, I encourage you to blow your own trumpet. Utilise platforms like social media to make sure people are aware of your work and its impact. This is key to generating opportunities. As CoMO members, all our work is essential in the race to 2030. We meet the needs of communities around the world, striving to reduce meningitis incidence and impact.
Finally, and as I’ve already mentioned, stakeholders must work together to achieve the visionary goals of the Global Road Map. Be proactive in reaching out to people in your country and offering your support. Throughout my region I am supporting other CoMO members to connect with local WHO colleagues and Ministries of Health – contacts I generated from the workshops.
Looking to the future
Looking ahead, I plan to reach out to donor agencies to support us in carrying out interventions in favour of meningitis survivors and creating awareness about the disease. If it’s possible, I would also like to set up a network of survivors and create a platform where they could speak to each other and be reached.
September 2019: Workshop to finalise the global road map held in London. Rhoda attended alongside representatives from governments, global health organisations, academia, the private sector and civil society organisations.
November 2020: Defeating meningitis by 2030 global road map approved by the Seventy-third session of the World Health Assembly in November 2020 (resolution WHA73.9).
August 2021: Regional framework to Defeat Meningitis by 2030 endorsed by Member States of the WHO African Region during the Regional Committee 71.
June – September 2022: Regional Implementation Framework developed to provide a clear set of priority activities and milestones for implementation by Member States of the WHO African Region and ensure that the goal to defeat meningitis by 2030 within the Region is achieved.
September 2022: Regional Strategic plan for Africa launched with a press conference and a webinar. At the virtual press conference, Rhoda joined WHO’s Regional Director Dr Moeti and Professor Marc LaForce (Serum Institute of India).
November 2022: WHO AFRO invited priority countries to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo to a workshop to develop their national meningitis plans. Rhoda attended this workshop.
June 2023: WHO AFRO held a second workshop supporting 15 new countries to develop their national meningitis plans. Rhoda attended this workshop.
May and August 2023: Nigeria national plan development workshop, hosted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.