Neglected tropical diseases

Samuel Eto’o, African Footballer of the Year, 2003, 2004, 2005, Cameroon

Extracted from the First Global Partners' Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases

Samuel Eto’o, African Footballer of the Year, 2003, 2004, 2005, Cameroon
© Chris Black/WHO

I was born in Cameroon 26 years ago. When I was a schoolboy, my teacher would tell us, as all teachers did throughout Cameroon, the story of sleeping sickness. In the 1930s, this dreadful disease devastated my country and killed men, women and children indiscriminately. As a result, villages were abandoned. At the time it was decided to mobilize all possible means to eradicate this disease. The first African school for specialized laboratory technicians opened in Ayos not far from where I lived. The huge efforts and many years of control made it possible for these various teams to reach their goal and, thus, the disease completely disappeared from Cameroon and Africa in 1962.

This inspiring story, with which the name of my country is closely associated, is still taught in schools. It is a story that teaches all Cameroonian children that it is possible to win, however formidable, one’s adversary, if only you devote all of your energy to that goal. It is also my story, the story of a little boy who dreamed of becoming a great football player; a little boy who never forgot the teachings of these thousands of nurses who won the most wonderful battle of all, the battle of life. Now I am fortunate enough to be applauded in stadiums throughout the world. I do not forget and will never forget the children of Africa in whose eyes today there is a glimmer of hope; and that is why I offer part of my energy to all of those living in these villages who, too often, suffer from indifference.

I am not a doctor, but every time I go home I see these dreadful diseases, so I know what they are. I am familiar with Noma, Buruli ulcer and all the other diseases that we are dealing with today because they have all ravished our villages.

It is true, as I said, I am particularly interested in sleeping sickness, because it has reappeared in our countries. I would like, sincerely, to join forces with you to combat against negligence, for there is nothing worse than being forgotten, wherever you live in the world; and that is why, Madam Director-General, I feel greatly honoured to bring my contribution to WHO, because you are the spearhead of this commendable initiative.

Every week, on the football field what I do is to score goals and to give some pleasure and joy to those watching the game. Today, I am here as a fan, so to speak, to lend my support to your work on behalf of all the people of Africa and all continents. I call upon you, Madam Director-General to bring relief to our brothers and to give hope to all children in the world: hope that they can live in a world free of neglected diseases. I would like this effort to be undertaken here and now and to be pursued in the long term. On their behalf, as well, I urge all the partners assembled here today to continue to lend their assistance and intensify this assistance. I offer you, Madam Director-General, my help with great humility but also with great determination.