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COVID-19 and neglected tropical disease innovation

November 2020
Volunteers wash their hands and practice social distancing before a training.

When COVID-19 forced Sightsavers and partners to pause some NTD programmes in Africa, we immediately began working to adapt and restart them as quickly and safely as possible.

Sightsavers works with governments, partners and donors to create a world in which we can control and eliminate five painful neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) which affect over a billion of the most vulnerable people.

So when the pandemic forced us to pause many of our programmes to combat NTDs in Africa earlier this year, we knew it was vital to find ways to safely resume our programmes so we could carry on protecting those who need it, build on the gains made to eliminate the diseases, as well as supporting governments with their COVID-19 responses.

To this end, and with the support of funders, partners and ministries of health, we have spent the last few months innovating and adapting programmes, always putting the local needs of every community at the centre of what we do.

Here are some of the ways innovation is helping us respond.

A man wearing a mask gives a demonstration to distributors in a school classroom.

Risk assessment and mitigation action tool

First, we developed a risk and benefits assessment tool – RAMA – to ensure that together with governments and partners we could restart the vital mass drug administration (MDA) needed to combat NTDs whilst mitigating the risk of spreading COVID-19.

A poster that says 'COVID has not gone away' and showcasing one-meter social distancing.

How the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiative adapted to respond to COVID-19

Second, once we knew that the vital WASH activities we use to beat NTDs could help stop the spread of COVID-19, we lost no time in joining forces with our Ascend consortium partners and M&C Saatchi to devise a culturally appropriate behaviour change campaign, including WASH activities, to reach millions of people in eight African countries.

A man washes his hands.

Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund

Finally, Sightsavers and the Ascend consortium partners supported the Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office’s launch of the second cycle of the Ascend Learning and Innovation Fund which, among other things, gives the global health community a chance to put forward innovative proposals – from research to large-scale implementation – to create more resilient NTD programmes in 13 countries in Africa.

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