'It shouldn't be about survival': William Troost-Ekong on fighting tropical diseases, and relegation

Nigeria and Watford defender William Troost-Ekong might be facing a relegation clash with the Hornets in the Premier League, but he has taken on another fight off the field in aiming to eliminate neglected tropical diseases [NTDs].

Troost-Ekong, who was born and raised in the Netherlands, maintains a strong connection to Nigeria and visits often, and he has long been involved in the fight against malaria on the continent and wants to use his fame and money on this new front.

NTDs, such as dengue fever, leprosy and hookworm, are prevalent in places with poor water quality and sanitation. And according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "The World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people -- approximately one-sixth of the world's population -- suffer from at least one NTD. While NTDs rarely lead to death, they can cause significant disability that persists for a lifetime, including fatigue, blindness, and disfigurement."

The Super Eagles captain told ESPN of his desire to bring attention to the diseases affecting parts of Africa.

"I was born in Netherlands, but I spent a lot of time in Nigeria as a kid, because my dad still lives in Lagos," he explained. "So I have managed to see both sides of the coin, and it felt like an injustice, seeing what life was like for loads of children that I saw in Nigeria, compared to what was very normal and basic to my life in the Netherlands.

"I have met many people in Nigeria and across the continent who are living with an NTD. They have to work extra hard to overcome the physical, social and economic consequences of their ailments in order to survive."

"But it shouldn't be about survival," Troost-Ekong continued. "If we can work together to eliminate NTDs, we can create greater access to education and work opportunities for over 600 million people, boosting Africa's economy and building a great future for our continent.

"As I carried on in my football career, my journey, I realised that my platform and my voice, all of a sudden carried more weight, and I decided that I wanted to use this towards something. So, I tried to do my best to make my financial contribution because I feel that it's something of a responsibility from the position I'm in, and how lucky I am."

NTDs are "neglected" in that they don't get a lot of attention or funding, largely due to being a problem in developing nations, and Troost-Ekong has joined Game of our Lives to raise awareness.

"The best way we can really eradicate these NTDs is to make it part of the global health agenda again," he said. "That's really my motivation behind all of this, and I'm going to try to encourage as many of my colleagues and other sports or superstars or anyone who's got a following, to [get involved]."

Troost-Ekong's most recent trip to the continent was to the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, where he enjoyed a resurgence in form after a dire end of 2021, during which social media abuse saw him deactivate all his accounts.

He said that while Nigeria were eliminated in the quarterfinals, he did enjoy the tournament and found his passion for the game again.

"It was a difficult time for me in November, December, and for the [Watford] team," he said. "Of course, it's never nice when you are criticised and when there's bad things said about me, but I also know that's all part of my job and it goes up and down.

"It's like a roller coaster a lot of the time, and the deactivation on my social media at that moment in time was more just to give me some space to refocus, and not to waste any energy."

"I wanted to keep my headspace clear and focused on what I was doing," he added. "And it also really made me enjoy the moment again. I really enjoyed playing the AFCON. And just being in the moment and spending the time with my teammates and focusing on the games and on the training sessions, to an extent to where now I am not sure I even want to bring my social media back again."

The Hornets' dismal 2021 has continued into 2022, and they sit with five wins in 26 matches and are third from the bottom. But Troost-Ekong feels they're still in with a chance to avoid the drop, especially with new manager Roy Hodgson.

"I believe in it [avoiding relegation]. And I'll believe in until it becomes possible," the defender said. "It would be crazy not to [have hope] because I've seen crazier things happen in football.

"We still have a few games left, which is a lot of points to be played for. I'm not saying it's going to be easy but we are must still definitely believe that we can do. I wish there was a recipe for success that we could just apply, but there are many, many things and we've got a new manager now."

"We are trying to understand his message as quickly as possible and to execute what he's expecting from us. Besides that, I think the main thing is to try and stay positive together," he continued. "Because in this moment, it's been very difficult for everyone. We want to have the results more than anyone as well but we need to keep our confidence to get the results."