One billion is a difficult number to fathom and the sheer size of this milestone is not something that Sightsavers could have achieved alone. Throughout all of our programmes, partnership lies at the core of our success.
Professor Stephen Hawking spoke at our event to celebrate the one billionth treatment. He could not have been more right when he said: “Collaboration between partners across the world over the past five years has accelerated us closer to the elimination of NTDs than ever, making it clear that this is one of the most successful health initiatives of recent times.”
Throughout its history, Sightsavers has worked with partners and engaged in the global NTD community, linking multiple development challenges across disability, gender, global health agendas, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Platforms such as the Neglected Tropical Disease NGDO Network (NNN) enable us to share knowledge and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of our programmes. Coalitions and networks such as the International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) allow us to work in collaboration with other organisations with the same goals, ensuring work is not duplicated and that partners are collaborating rather than competing, and therefore reaching more people in need with greater efficiency.
Partnership is essential at all levels of any disease elimination programme. At the highest levels, Sightsavers and partners work with and support ministries of health and national authorities. One example is the Tropical Data service, which has been set up to help ministries of health in trachoma-endemic countries to run epidemiological surveys. In essence, Tropical Data helps countries gather information about where trachoma treatment programmes are needed and where existing programmes have been a success.
But we must also form partnerships at the district and community levels, to make sure our programmes are accepted by the communities we are serving and to ensure strong uptake of our interventions. Working with community leaders is vital if we are to understand the cultures and needs of each community, which can significantly affect the effectiveness of our programmes.
Key to our NTD programmes are the hundreds of thousands of trained community directed distributors (CDDs) such as Baraka, who was nominated by her community in Kudaru, Nigeria, to distribute preventative treatment. Baraka recently delivered our one billionth treatment to seven-year-old Dorcas and is passionate about continuing to serve her community. Endorsements from community leaders and community directed distributors can alleviate concerns people may have about drug distribution programmes, meaning more people are covered and transmission of disease is reduced.
A critical element to our work is also the support of individual donors, trusts and foundations, corporate partners and fellow international development organisations that ensure we have the resources and skills needed to overcome any challenge. For example, funding from UK aid via the UK government’s Department for International Development and USAID has allowed for projects such as the Global Trachoma Mapping Project. Meanwhile, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trachoma Initiative and the DFID SAFE programme have boosted trachoma interventions to unprecedented levels, reaching more people where and when they need it. The International Coalition for Trachoma Control has helped to support this successful partnership, bringing together 45 members and observers, each with unique skills, knowledge and experience.
What’s more, public-private partnerships have led to remarkable progress against NTDs. For example, 13 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have pulled together to create the largest donation programme in history. As a result, partner organisations have now received more than US$17 billion in donations to help eliminate NTDs for good.
Working in partnership is not always easy and requires a commitment to working towards a common goal, setting aside individual ambitions and avoiding competition. However, working together to collect and share data, share work plans and ensure different stakeholders’ expertise is used strategically has brought in new donors and enabled the NTD community to scale up activities to reach this huge milestone.
Together, we are making significant progress in combating NTDs, but there is more work that must be done. We each have a part to play in helping to eliminate these painful diseases of poverty. In 2018 and beyond, collaboration between partner organisations is more important than ever in the journey to eliminate NTDs.
Dr Philip Downs
Philip is Technical Director for NTDs at Sightsavers.
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