What is mass drug administration?

A crowd of children and adults watch as an eye health worker measures a child's height and gives medication to prevent NTDs.

Sightsavers works with thousands of local volunteers to distribute millions of donated treatments and protect people from disease.

Mass drug administration (MDA) involves giving treatment to an entire population or every person in a geographical area. This means that all eligible people, whether they are infected or not, receive the treatment.

MDAs are vital to help control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). They ensure that those who are infected are treated, and that those who aren’t are protected from future infection.

Since 2016, more than a billion people a year have been treated via MDA. Here you can read about the key steps to a successful MDA.

Watch our video to learn more about mass drug administration.

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1. Identify where treatment is needed

Sightsavers works with countries to identify where treatment is needed using mapping surveys. Examples include the Tropical Data project, which helps countries carry out surveys as they work towards eliminating trachoma; and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Mapping Project, to map the spread of river blindness.

Both use smartphone technology to collect data to pinpoint exactly where programmes are needed.

A Tropical Data trainee examines a young child for trachoma while the recorder enters data into a mobile phone.
A community volunteer explaining about river blindness to community members.

2. Raise awareness in communities

Mobilisers go out to the communities where treatment is needed to raise awareness of the disease and treatment process. Then, planning meetings are held to clearly lay out the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.

Information about the disease and planned MDA is often then shared with those who need the treatment via community gatherings at local churches or schools.

3. Train volunteers to give treatments

Local volunteers are nominated by their communities: many have experienced how NTDs affect lives and understand their community’s customs. They are taught about the diseases, and are trained to distribute the treatment.

This community-focused approach means the communities themselves are at the centre of efforts to combat NTDs, ensuring long-term and sustainable solutions.

Community volunteer Assiatou stands next to a child whom she has just given a dose of preventative medication.
Truck crossing a flooded road

4. Ship treatments to the communities

Treatments for the five NTDs that Sightsavers treat are generously donated by pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck Serono and Johnson & Johnson.

They are shipped to the countries where they are needed, then distributed to the local communities where the MDA will be carried out.

5. Distribute the treatments

Communities are notified that an MDA will be happening and are advised to stay near their homes. Treatments are often distributed at a central point, such as a school, but volunteers will also go house to house to ensure they reach everybody.

During MDAs, volunteers can walk several miles a day to deliver treatment. They keep a record of treatments given in log books: if they miss anyone, they arrange follow-up visits to try and reach them. This means that even in hard-to-reach rural areas, Sightsavers is able to protect those most in need.

A community volunteer distributes treatment to a couple.
A hand holding two tablets labelled with the text 'Merck'.

6. Evaluate the impact

Once the MDA campaign is finished, log books are collected and the data is summarised and then observed by the local ministry of health and the World Health Organization (WHO), to evaluate coverage and determine next steps.

MDAs will usually be carried out at recurring intervals until WHO determines the area is free from the disease.

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