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Mapping marginalised communities: The Global Trachoma Mapping Project

Helen Hamilton, October 2015
Hilbret is sitting on a wooden chair outside. A health worker is leaning over her head, examining her eyes. She has a child sitting on her lap.

“NTDs are responsible for generating inequalities and perpetuating ill health; preventing children from going to school and adults from productive work”

The opportunity for global transformation heralded by the unanimous adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last month is vast.

For those in the NTD (neglected tropical diseases) community, it was a big moment: NTDs were included for the first time in the sustainable development framework and globally recognised as a critical element in the drive to end poverty and promote shared prosperity.

Those of us who work on NTDs are well aware that chronic poverty is a primary determinant of risk for NTD infection. NTDs are also responsible for generating inequalities and perpetuating ill health; with the consequences of chronic NTD infection leading to negative impacts, preventing children from going to school and adults from productive work. The renewed focus on inequality in the SDGs and the increasing availability of detailed, quality data through projects like the Global Trachoma Mapping Project now offer us an opportunity to fulfil the potential of health to reduce inequalities.

So how can we ensure that no one is left facing chronic sickness, painful disability or exclusion due to NTDs as the SDGs are implemented?

Through embracing the contribution that the NTD community can make to the data revolution.

At the centre of the data revolution is the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data which acknowledges that there is a shortage of data when it comes to measuring the participation of population in needs in development programmes. This partnership supports data-driven decision-making by promoting more open, new, and usable data. Mapping initiatives such as the GTMP are a great steps towards greater inclusion in development programme to leave no one behind.

At its heart, this means ensuring we have a comprehensive map of which populations are in need of services, what services they need and how best to deliver those services. The data generated through the Global Trachoma Mapping Project and similar initiatives have already started to drive change – and this is the really exciting part; recently, trachoma programmes have begun implementation of trachoma elimination projects using the GTMP data to guide and target interventions. The data collected present the most complete picture of trachoma the world has ever had. The data is high quality, accurate, and timely.

For the first time trachoma endemic countries have a clear picture of just how many people are in need of services. Perhaps most importantly, through collecting and representing their own information, endemic countries have data ownership and the data they need to plan and implement targeted services to eliminate trachoma. However, more will need to be done to share this data so that national policies are geared to global impact.

We have a long way to go to ensure we deliver on the commitments enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals and eliminated blinding trachoma by 2020, but we have to seize this opportunity and align our joint efforts to deliver on this obligation. While combating NTDs alone cannot reduce inequality, it remains an important part of any efforts to reduce inequality and ensure that efforts to improve health outcomes reach the worlds most marginalised populations.

By Helen Hamilton, Policy Adviser at Sightsavers.

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