Nov. 16, 2020 — Today at the annual meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD), the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center announced Doctors Massitan Dembélé and Yao Sodahlon as co-winners of the 2020 Kyelem Prize.
“The Kyelem Prize recognizes special people in our field who have been particularly effective in bringing together those who implement neglected tropical disease control and elimination programs and those who support or conduct research to address those programs’ needs,” said Eric Ottesen, former director and special advisor to the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center.
A Living Legacy
The Kyelem Prize is named for the late Dr. Dominique Kyelem (1962-2013). As program director of the Lymphatic Filariasis Support Center (now the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center) at The Task Force for Global Health, after an illustrious career as Program Manager for lymphatic filariasis in Burkina Faso, Dr. Kyelem personified the spirit and mission of COR-NTD—bringing together partners from both the program implementation and research communities to work on shared goals to optimize NTD control and elimination globally.
“As rich as his CV and list of scientific publications were, it was Dominique’s personal warmth that made him truly special—everyone’s friend, everyone’s go-to person for help and advice, and the source of everyone’s favorite smile and positivity,” said Ottesen.”Indeed, it was his wonderful personal attributes that we now celebrate in the individuals selected each year to receive the Kyelem Prize—competence and effectiveness, collegiality and sincerity, unquenchable determination and optimism.”
Two Winners Selected
Massitan Dembélé and Yao Sodahlon were selected by their peers as co-winners of the 2020 Kyelem Prize. Dr. Dembélé is the focal point for neglected tropical diseases for Mali’s Ministry of Health. “Massitan is a fighter at heart, ready to take on challenges at any level—technical or policy—to make her programs better and more effective for the populations she serves,” said Ottesen.
Dr. Sodahlon directs the Mectizan Donation Program, having worked previously as a neglected tropical disease program manager in Togo. “Working at the interface of the public and private sectors has its own special hazards, but Yao has not only managed these abundant challenges effectively but has also brought everyone closer together—including, especially, the field teams and the communities whose engagement is, without doubt, essential for the success of the global lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis programs,” said Ottesen.
Each year, the COR-NTD Secretariat solicits nominations for the Kyelem Prize from the more than 1,000 researchers, program implementers, donors and World Health Organization representatives invited to attend the annual meeting. A selection committee representative of this community votes anonymously to select a winner. This year, the voting results were so close that two winners were selected. “For both our Prize winners today, a defining characteristic is their truly hands-on engagement with the communities they care for and the research they carry out,” said Ottesen.
About the Kyelem Prize: The Kyelem Prize is given annually in honor of Dr. Dominique Kyelem at the COR-NTD meeting. After beginning his career as a district medical officer in Burkina Faso, Dr. Kyelem earned his PhD at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He then became program manager for lymphatic filariasis in Burkina Faso, and later served as director of programs in the Lymphatic Filariasis Support Center (now the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center) at The Task Force for Global Health until his death in 2013. In addition to his professional legacy – which includes being among the first to pilot mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis – he is remembered for his unyielding positivity. Past awardees include Dr. Julie Jacobson (2015), Dr. Vasanthapuram Kumaraswami (2016), Professor David Molyneux (2017), Dr. Mwele Malecela (2017), Professor Alan Fenwick (2018) and Professor John Owusu Gyapong (2019).
About COR-NTD: The Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) is a forum for researchers, program implementers and their supporters with the shared goal of optimizing NTD control and elimination globally. Supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.K. Agency for International Development, the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center at the Task Force for Global Health serves as the Coalition Secretariat. The aim of COR-NTD is to promote new synergies within the operational research community for NTDs and align that research with the program needs and World Health Organization guidelines.