A series of trucks decked out in colour, banners and flags and broadcasting the powerful voices of Baul (folk) singers took to the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh at the end of January to engage the city’s residents on a range of Neglected Tropical diseases (NTDs) that affect their communities.
The musical event marked World NTD Day and was led by the UK Aid-funded Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (Ascend) programme.
The day saw singers, drummers and NTD experts take centre stage in the city’s metropolitan area from morning to dusk with important messaging about the causes, treatments and prevention measures relating to seven diseases in particular: Kala-azar (also known as Visceral Leithmaniasis), Lymphatic Filariasis (also known as elephantiasis), Helminthiasis (worm infections), Rabies, Snakebites, Dengue, Chikungunya, and Leprosy – the main NTDs affecting Bangladesh.
“Just meetings or small rallies don’t have much impact on people in general. But these large numbers of vehicles could reach a huge population,” said Professor Be-Nazir Ahmed, Ascend’s Country Lead in Bangladesh.
Around one hundred singers, forming twenty Baul groups, composed bespoke songs to get people listening – and singing – to the messages being shared, while handing out leaflets for people to take home.
“They sang many popular folk songs along with a theme song with the main messages on every major NTD in Bangladesh,” said Professor Ahmed.
Folk songs resonate with people in any community, but particularly in Bangladesh, believes Professor Ahmed, making it an effective way to disseminate health information to the general public.
People stopped and listened throughout the city and a significant number of people were informed about the NTD’s that are predominant in Bangladesh, helping them to take preventive and curative measures in the future.
To ensure safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, printed scarves, caps, masks and sanitiser was distributed to all the participants of the Baul teams.
Following the day itself, two teams went on to sing at a roundtable discussion on NTDs, performing to 175 invited guests including the Minister of Health and Family Welfare along with his Secretary, the Director General of Health Services, the President of the Bangladesh Medical Association and a representative of World Health Bangladesh — as well as representatives from a range of print and digital media.
“People responded overwhelmingly, often dancing and singing with the teams,” said Professor Ahmed. “Generally, it was felt to be very successful among us and other people.”