DONATE
Sightsavers from the field

The dose pole: a vital tool helping us to fight disease

January 2018
Baraka Ango standing in Nigeria with a dose pole.

These tall, colourful poles are used by community volunteers in the battle to eliminate neglected tropical diseases. But what are they, and how do they work?

Neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma and river blindness affect more than a billion people worldwide and can cause severe and lifelong impairment.

Sightsavers and partners have distributed more than one billion NTD treatments to protect people from these diseases and stop them spreading. The treatments are delivered by volunteers from the local area, known as community directed distributors (CDDs), who travel from house to house to make sure all local residents receive medication. But without extensive medical training, how do the volunteers know what dosage to give to each patient?

That’s where the dose pole comes in. This simple, light, universal device is used to measure the height of men, women and children. The clear markings on the pole make it easy for people without high levels of literacy to calculate and record the correct dose for each patient, depending on how tall they are.

Each distributor is given their own dose pole. When delivering medication, they ask people to stand next to the pole so their height can be measured. The distributor then gives them the correct number of tablets, represented by dots on the pole.

Community directed distributor Baraka Ango, from Kudaru in north-west Nigeria, says: “When the community see us with this stick, they will say: ‘Health worker, you are coming, we will come and collect our drugs.’ They are happy to see us with this stick. I love this stick because it represents us as CDDs in our community.”

By measuring a person’s height, rather than their weight, distributors don’t need to carry and constantly configure scales, which are more expensive and can be more difficult to read. The dose pole is often decorated in patterns, colours and markings unique to the community, and can be made from a variety of materials.

235,357
Sightsavers-supported community distributors trained in 2016

The distributors, who are nominated by their local community, are ideally placed to deliver the medication. Many have first-hand experience of how NTDs affect lives, having seen a family member or a neighbour infected. They understand the community’s dynamics and customs, which enables us to reach people who need our help the most, and ensures that vital drugs are distributed to people even in the poorest and most remote areas.

At a recent House of Lords debate, Lord Bates, Minister of State at the Department for International Development, described how Sightsavers’ distributors use the dose pole and said: “That is a model of how things ought to continue.”

This community-focused approach means communities themselves are at the centre of efforts to combat NTDs, ensuring a long-term, sustainable solution.

Two men are smiling and laughing. One of the men is being measured against a dose pole.

Local distributors understand the community’s dynamics and customs, which enables us to reach people who need our help the most.

Two men are smiling and laughing. One of the men is being measured against a dose pole.

Read more about Sightsavers’ NTDs milestone

One billion treatments

More from the field

A woman in Tanzania splashes water on her face from a metal bucket.
Sightsavers from the field

How water is vital to fight trachoma

To mark World Water Week 2018, Sightsavers’ NTD Programme Officer Cade Howard shares tips from the field about how water can help to eliminate this painful, blinding disease.

August 2018
Hula wears her new glasses and reads from a sheet of paper.
Sightsavers from the field

August highlights: updates from around the world

The latest from Kenya, where Sightsavers staff have been carrying out eye screenings in a refugee camp in Turkana. Plus news from India and Nigeria.

August 2018
Two women have their eyes examined while walking in the field with their crops.
Sightsavers from the field

The final days of trachoma in Ghana

Sightsavers’ Kate McCoy followed a team of eye care workers as they raced through cities and villages to find any remaining patients: they needed to treat them all to eliminate the disease for good.

August 2018