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Rigorous mitigation strategies vital for restarting NTD community health work

November 2020
A community volunteer measures Jumah's height.
Jumah Cooper has her height measured by community volunteer Victor Scott, to determine how much treatment she needs. Jumah lives in Gbarpolu county in Liberia (photo taken in March 2020).

The resumption of mass drug administration programmes to treat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is essential to reach the forthcoming World Health Organization 2021-2030 NTD Roadmap targets, according to a new report.

The report, called Neglected tropical disease activities in Africa in the COVID-19 era: the need for a ‘hybrid’ approach in COVID endemic times, states that risk mitigation strategies put in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic show that important health interventions can be restarted with limited risk and potentially huge benefits.

The report says the ‘hybrid approach’ would see NTD practices such as behavioural change messaging and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) interventions also help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The report is written by Professor David Molyneux, emeritus professor and former director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), in conjunction with staff from Sightsavers: Philip Downs, Ron Bannerman, Simon Bush, Joy Shu’aibu and Pelagie Boko-Collins.

It highlights the risk assessment and mitigation action (RAMA) tools that have been developed by Sightsavers and partners. These are being used by national NTD programme managers and partner/donor representatives to assess the risk of COVID-19 transmission and mitigation measures to be put in place.

The report states: “With the RAMA tools we have shown the COVID-19 crisis need not allow the major health issues that confront poor and vulnerable populations to be forgotten. Indeed, the resilience of health interventions, exemplified by NTD projects, to manage and implement integrated disease control responses should be the model for progress.”

The report also points out that while there are increased costs for safely delivering mass drug administration and other community outreach programmes, the benefits also include building resilience in responding to future emerging infectious diseases and alleviating secondary health impacts that could delay progress towards universal health coverage (UHC).

Where many traditional systems are distance-based, NTD programmes reach beyond the ‘end of the road’ via community-based volunteers with a proven track record of delivery – a human resource that can be harnessed now.

NTD outreach work in the COVID-19 era will also be more efficient with better inter-programme coordination, particularly with malaria and immunisation programmes.

Read the full report

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COVID-19 and NTD innovation

Sightsavers worked swiftly with donors and partners to adapt a WHO risk assessment tool for the context of NTDs, enabling us to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 and restart treatments.

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