More than 20,000 people in Burkina Faso are to be screened for advanced trachoma, in the first surveys since NTD programmes were put on hold because of COVID-19.
The surveys are part of the Tropical Data initiative, which supports health ministries to carry out surveys for advanced trachoma, known as trichiasis. The surveys help to pinpoint where to run trachoma elimination programmes, and where programmes are no longer needed.
The results from Burkina Faso could show whether work towards eliminating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) has been set back because of the pandemic, and will help to highlight what further action may be needed.
When COVID-19 emerged in Africa in April 2020, guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraged NTD elimination programmes to put any community-based activities, including surveys, on hold. But Burkina Faso worked hard with its partners on a risk assessment and mitigation action tool, known as RAMA, to ensure they reduced the risk of spreading the virus, enabling surveys to restart.
Before survey work could resume, community health workers were trained in COVID-19 prevention measures and were given additional equipment including masks, visors and a temperature monitoring tool called a thermoflash. A Tropical Data surveying kit also traditionally provides sanitising hand gel for use between examinations.
Tropical Data chief scientist Dr Emma Harding-Esch said the surveys could be more important now than ever. “They are a key step in evaluating progress in the journey to eliminate trachoma as a public health problem,” she said. “They can help determine the impact that interruptions in NTD interventions has had and inform what to do to limit this.”
The work in Burkina Faso, which is funded by the Accelerate programme, will pave the way for other countries to restart their surveys.
Tropical Data, which follows on from the Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP), supports health ministries to conduct globally standardised, high-quality prevalence surveys. The consortium includes the International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, RTI International and Sightsavers.