Welcome back! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. Today I’m in Tanzania, meeting with Erick Venant, the founder and CEO of Roll Back Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative (RBA Initiative). Erick is eager to make a huge impact in the world of health by combatting disease. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Wow, Erick, I’m excited to learn about your work! Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing?
Erick: Thank you for having me, Spiffy! Roll Back Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative (RBA Initiative) is a non-governmental organization with a special focus on combatting antimicrobial resistance. As a young pharmacist, I am determined to achieve our organizational goals and promote ways to help prevent antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites resist the effects of medications. This makes common infections harder to treat and increases the risk of diseases spreading, resulting in severe illness and death. The misuse and overuse of antimicrobials are rapidly accelerating this problem.
Spiffy: I’ve heard that this is becoming a big challenge. Tell me, what motivated you to focus on healthcare in general and antimicrobial resistance specifically?
Erick: I have always had a burning desire to be part of the solution to public health challenges. During my study as a pharmacist, I learned about the threat that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses to the effectiveness of medicine, contributing to approximately 700,000 deaths every year globally. According to a UN report, if no efforts are taken to slow down and reverse this, the number of deaths caused by drug-resistant infections could increase to 10 million people annually by the year 2050. I started advocating for AMR while I was a pharmacy student, and after graduation, founded the RBA Initiative. I believe that change begins from the ground up!
Spiffy: Agreed! How would you say your organization is working to make the world more equitable?
Erick: Well, Spiffy, we promote the rational use of antimicrobials, conduct research on AMR, and promote behavioral change to reduce the rate of infection due to AMR. We cover rural and urban communities and work with schools, colleges, universities, health professionals, private individuals, and policymakers across multiple sectors—from health to agriculture—to encourage them to mobilize and help prevent the spread of AMR. We also empower secondary school students to become agents of change through our AMR School Cubs program.
Erick Venant with the Duke of Cambridge at Kensington Palace in 2019, at an event for Legacy Award winners. (Photo credit: The Diana Award)
Spiffy: That’s exciting! Are there any milestones you’ve achieved? What kind of impact is your work having?
Erick: When I was a student, I led a nationwide campaign that successfully brought attention to antimicrobial resistance in schools all over Tanzania. In total, we educated over 49,000 students in 114 secondary schools, across 23 administrative regions. I founded RBA Initiative to sustain these efforts and build on what we achieved. RBA Initiative has now reached 5.1 million people across Tanzania through local radio campaigns and has engaged with over 3,000 people through tailored workshops and classroom teaching. Our AMR School program has trained 160 student ambassadors across three schools in the Dodoma Region of central Tanzania.
Spiffy: Can you share about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn?
Erick: As a young founder, even though I work hard to make things happen, I sometimes feel ignored. I have spent time meeting with people who could help support and drive this initiative, and in the process, I’ve discovered that some of these people may ignore you and think that what you are doing is worthless. Or they believe that, because you are young, there is a limit to what you can do or achieve. This can be very demotivating. So, I have overcome this by finding mentors and surrounding myself with positive-minded people. I have found that it helps to keep focused on the task at hand, develop self-awareness, practice self-motivation, and look back and reflect on the achievements I have already accomplished.
Spiffy: It’s important to stay positive! I’m curious—what have you learned from the young people you work with?
Erick: There are so many young people with amazing talents and so much potential. These young people can do a lot of positive things that will make our world a better place—especially if we engage with and believe in them.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would like to add about your work?
Erick: I realized that antimicrobial resistance was not being given the attention it deserved. The growing resistance to life-saving drugs galvanized me to find a solution. As well as complicating the fight against serious conditions such as HIV and malaria, many common and treatable diseases are becoming increasingly fatal, such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. I thought that raising awareness and educating people about antimicrobial resistance would be a simple and important step to address this issue.
Spiffy: Simple steps can lead to big impacts! I wish you all the best in this exciting venture, Erick. It’s been an honor speaking with you.
Erick Venant is the founder and CEO of Roll Back Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative (RBA Initiative) an NGO in Tanzania which focuses on containing antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Trained as a pharmacist, Erick has received several awards for his work to contain AMR including the Princess Diana Legacy Award. He is also an educator for different global courses on AMR. In Tanzania, Erick serves as a member of the AMR Technical Working Group for Awareness, which is under the Ministry of Health. (Nominated by The Diana Award)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog