People often say in response how wonderful it must be to have a job so rewarding. They’re right, of course: I feel very lucky to do what I do, and I believe it’s important to reflect on that every now and again to make sure I appreciate it.
For the most part, I coordinate a project called Tropical Data, which helps ministries of health to collect data about trachoma – an excruciatingly painful and potentially blinding eye disease. Why is this important? With this data, countries can identify how many people are at risk of trachoma, where treatment programmes may be needed and how best to allocate limited resources.
Treatment programmes follow an approach recommended by the World Health Organization, known as the SAFE strategy: the acronym stands for surgery, for the later stages of trachoma; antibiotics given to entire communities at risk and to treat the early stages of the infection; teaching people about facial cleanliness, and promoting environmental change. Following these interventions, new data is gathered, or ‘mapped’, to confirm whether the interventions have had the desired impact, enabling ministries of health to collect evidence to one day declare that they have eliminated the disease.
This large-scale project uses smartphone technology to gather data as part of the global fight to eliminate trachoma.More on Tropical Data
Tropical Data is a joint programme with several organisations – RTI, ITI, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Sightsavers – but the key is that the work is owned and led by ministries of health in endemic countries. Since the service began in July 2016, we have helped 31 countries to conduct 860 surveys. Through Tropical Data, 2.6 million people have been examined for trachoma across four continents, reaching some of the world’s most remote and difficult environments.
Our service provides step-by-step support for countries throughout the mapping process, including epidemiological and technical support, standardised training and logistical support, and a data management, storage and approval service. My role is to coordinate the entire process, from when a country first gets in touch and I can assess their needs.
A large focus of my work is organising training sessions, both nationally and internationally, and working with our large network of trainers across the world – one of the favourite parts of my role.
One of the highlights this year has been helping to coordinate five international training workshops: one in the Pacific Islands, one in South America and three in Africa. In total this year, 151 people were trained at different levels, including grader trainers, graders, recorder trainers and recorders. The training sessions are an opportunity to engage with colleagues from all over the world, and to meet in person many of the people I speak to regularly via email. I will be talking to many of them a lot more as their surveys ramp up.
I would like to say a big thank you to all our partners who have supported our work so far in 2018, as well as to our trainers for their passion and commitment, to our trainees for their enthusiasm and hard work, and to our host countries for taking on the challenge.
I feel honoured to play a part in this important work, which helps to transform lives and support countries to eliminate this blinding disease. To end the suffering of people with neglected tropical diseases such as trachoma, countries and organisations need to move fast – and collecting accurate data is vital.
Cristina is Sightsavers’ Neglected Tropical Diseases and Tropical Data Coordinator.
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