Sightsavers research project aims to map the impact of climate change on NTDs

November 2023

Sightsavers and the Walker Institute at the University of Reading have teamed up on a new research project that will look at how climate change could affect the reach of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Malawi.

More than a billion people are affected by NTDs around the world, and there is evidence that a global rise in temperatures, coupled with changing weather patterns, could alter the spread of these diseases.

The project will work with the Malawian government to explore a range of future scenarios, and what these would mean for its efforts to curb NTDs. The researchers are also seeking additional funding that would allow them to widen their focus to include other countries in Africa.

Dr Richard Selby, head of portfolio for NTDs research at Sightsavers, said: “In 2023 we’ve seen that no one is immune to the effects of climate change, but those people feeling the impacts most remain the world’s poorest people. These are also the people most affected by NTDs like river blindness and schistosomiasis.

“This project will help us to identify areas where changes in temperature and weather conditions could affect how diseases are spread. The Malawian government and its partners can then act to strengthen the health system and protect the population against the twin threats of climate change and disease.”

Walker Institute director Professor Rosalind Cornforth said: “We’re excited to be working with Sightsavers on this project, where we’ll be using our research expertise to produce climate risk assessments and Inclusive Consultative Integrated Climate, Livelihoods and Environment (ICICLE) storylines for Malawi. This will provide a solid foundation for policymakers and health workers as they consider how to adapt NTD programmes in the face of a changing climate.

“We’re hoping that this will be the start of a much bigger initiative, where we can offer the same insights to governments across Africa. We’d welcome any interest from potential funders and partners who would like to support these efforts.”

An eye health worker wearing a mask and visor checks a man's eyes for signs of trachoma.

What are NTDs?

Neglected tropical diseases are a major cause of preventable blindness around the world. We treat and prevent five debilitating diseases, including trachoma, river blindness and intestinal worms.

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