My View, My Voice by Ferdy Mbiydzenyuy

Ferdy is a YHP One Young World Scholar, a Step Up! grant recipient and Secretary General of the Cameroon NCD Alliance.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and should not be taken to be those of the Young Health Programme or any other organisation.


When Passion and Vision Meet Support

Passion, vision and support are vital to make change happen on NCDs and youth must be at the heart of it. I know this from my own story.

In 2007 my beloved aunt died and my mum, a nurse, said it was due to “complications of diabetes.” Two years later my university lecturer joked that we should not work on NCDs “because it’s hard to get results and there’s no money in it.” My mum’s words came back to me and made me really angry and I thought to myself that thousands more like my aunt will die if people like me don’t work on NCDs. This looked really difficult at my first job as a finance clerk in a healthcare organisation - but then I became a grants writer and stumbled on the WHO Action Plan for NCDs. I realized that my organization was nowhere near prioritising and caring for NCD patients as they should. With the Director’s support I spent two years setting up an NCD program to address this but it was really tough for a young person like me with a degree in Biochemistry in an organisation with 4,500 staff.

One day my wife told me that our son had been diagnosed with congenital heart disease. I couldn’t believe it and dropped the phone. Fortunately, it was a misdiagnosis, however it spurred me on to more action. Two years down the line, I was leading an awareness and screening campaign called Know Your Numbers (KYN), screening more than 60,000 people for NCD risk and providing counseling and care to others.

The KYN data showed that just 8% of youth turned up for screening. This bothered me and I started searching for youth engagement opportunities on NCDs.  I applied for and received an AstraZeneca Step Up! grant to put my plans into action. The grant enabled us to train 58 young advocates in project development and how to raise awareness and conduct advocacy. The young advocates have been phenomenal during and after training and, for example, helped Cameroon to provide the highest number of young people posting and raising awareness in the NCD Alliance’s #EnoughNCDs Campaign in 2019.  More than half of them now have jobs which are connected to NCD work in Cameroon and we will keep them involved with our work.

My next big break was when I went as a Young Health Programme scholar to the 2019 One Young World Summit in November in cold, cold London. The Summit was filled with the incredible stories of young people, leading change and meeting serious challenges in their little corners of the world. I had never before been this motivated to achieve my dreams; to muster the courage and to become the best I can be. This is exactly what I mean when passion, vision and support meet. Without support such as the Young Health Programme, we can’t harness passion, talent and vision to change the world for the better.

At One Young World, I met the BBC StoryWorks team who were filming their ‘Turning the Tide’ series on NCDs and wanted to include me. I was extremely delighted to be selected and I mustered the courage to be filmed because I realized this was my opportunity to share my story and help inspire action by all stakeholders on NCDs. It had also always been a dream of mine to be on the BBC.

Now, although I am still young, I am the Secretary General of the Cameroon NCD Alliance and have founded the Reconciliation and Development Association (RADA), a non-profit whose vision is to drive sustainable solutions to community development.  My hope is to use the example of success on NCDs to inspire vision and action on the other Sustainable Development Goals.

I have just come back from the NCD Alliance’s Global NCD Forum in Sharjah and think that we are coming to a real turning point – to a point where the threat of death by a risk factor of cancer will be as angering as the threat of death from coronavirus. The pain of loss from a young child from kidney, heart, pancreatic or brain failure will be as important to their family and society as the death of an HIV patient was when that epidemic was at its height.

The best way to avoid risk factors for chronic cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancers is to cut the risk factors off. This cannot be done by a single young person - it MUST be undertaken by governments and leaders, now. We need youth to understand that they are likely to die younger than their parents lived if we don’t change the way we are living today. This is not a nice word of hope, it is bad news for any person below the age of 30. Young people must take control of our own future by resisting tobacco, alcohol and junk food. We have to act ourselves but we also must ensure governments take appropriate action too.

We need a world where people whose aunts have died of an NCD, or who have been diagnosed with leukemia, or who have been exposed to tobacco smoke, are angry enough to drive policy at the global meetings; to translate this into action at community level; and raise awareness of how serious the NCD issue is.  We must mobilize all young people because it is all of our futures that we are talking about. The “ALL MUST ACT” phase of NCD Prevention and Control is impossible without masses of young people.

Young people must create the opportunities to improve their lives and need to be supported in innovative and strategic ways, so that they can create a healthy and sustainable future for the world. They need awareness of the issues, passion, vision and dedication to solve the problems - and the support of initiatives like the Young Health Programme to help turn the world’s dreams into reality.

Ferdy Mbiydzenyuy