One of Sightsavers’ leading neglected tropical disease (NTD) programmes could play an important role in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in Africa, according to Professor David Molyneux, Emeritus Professor and former director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM).
Ascend West and Central Africa treats five different NTDs in 13 African countries and is UK aid’s flagship NTD programme. In the new report, Molyneux, who chairs the technical consultative committee for the programme, highlighted that this programme used a huge network of trusted community volunteers, who could be quickly mobilised. Their knowledge and expertise in using mobile phone technology to monitor transmission of NTDs and send out behavioural change messages would be particularly useful.
He also said some of the behavioural change messages used in COVID-19 programmes would be similar to those which are used in NTD prevention. They include the importance of handwashing with soap and environmental hygiene. Social distancing messages could also be included.
“The poorest countries and communities are likely to be the ones least able to cope with COVID-19, but the Ascend project has an opportunity to react and provide countries with practical support, adapting its approaches in ways which assist the response to COVID-19,” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidance on neglected tropical diseases (NTD) programmes, recommending that surveys, active case-finding and mass treatment campaigns be postponed. This means that some NTD treatment activities have had been put on hold in the wake of COVID-19, but others, such as the treatment and care of patients, can continue.
Plans are now being explored about how we might be able to ‘flex’ activities and Molyneux looks in detail at ways in which this can happen in the new report which can be read in full here.