END7 at Anahuac University North Campus: What We’ve Accomplished, Where We’re Going

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of infectious diseases that subsist in tropical and subtropical climates through 149 countries. Currently, more than 1.4 billion people worldwide are affected by at least one of the 17 NTDs recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO). NTDs are called “neglected” because while they have been largely wiped out of the most developed areas, they persist in the poorest and most marginalized societies. If left untreated, NTDs can cause substantial illness and suffering, hampering children from attending to school and reducing adult economic productivity. As a result, families, communities and countries become trapped in a cycle of disease and poverty.

Anahuac University, where I am a student, is a private Mexican university that was founded in 1964 with a clear mission: “To be a university community that contributes and promotes the process of integral formation of the people who for their excellent and innovative professional and cultural preparation of international level, for their profound human and moral formation inspired by the perennial values ​​of Christian humanism, and for its genuine social consciousness, are leaders of positive action that promote the development of the human being and society.

Aerial view of the showroom, library and main terrace

Aerial view of the showroom, library and main terrace

END7 team Mexico has been active at Anahuac University North Campus through since I was accepted to the END7 Campus Leaders Council. I am a postgraduate student of the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery and student of the Master on Health Sciences with special interest on NTDs, Global Health and Humanitarian Aid.

Ending the neglect of NTDs at Anahuac University is the priority of the Anahuac University Neglected Tropical Diseases Interest Group, which is in the process of formation with at least 50 internal and external members recruited, including students and professors from across several disciplines. Many of them have been already working on advocacy, awareness, education, fundraising and research to fight NTDs with END7. Thereby, we present a brief summary of activities that have been done during our first six months of work:

Advocacy

  • Almost 100 signatures were collected for the USAID NTD Program 10th anniversary petition

Awareness 

Martin Careaga and Rodrigo Díaz from END7 team Mexico

Martin Careaga and Rodrigo Díaz from END7 team Mexico

  • One amateur soccer team with twenty members was suited up with personalized uniforms designed by Manuel Leyva to support END7 through 2016-2017 seasons. Each player’s jersey was emblazoned with the name of a NTD and the hashtag #EndTheNeglect. This action generated interest and curiosity among soccer players and their families in a league with nearly 400 registered players
  • One article about END7 and the END7 Campus Leaders Council was published at Anahuac University social media

Education

  • A workshop for twelve high school students was given in coordination with Diego Russo at Thomas Jefferson School Emerald Zone campus
  • Three workshops for 125 pre-medical students were given in coordination with Joanne Joloy at Anahuac University North and South campus
  • A review article about American trypanosomiasis entitled “Chagas disease: Current perspectives on a forgotten disease” was published in coordination with Giorgio Franyuti at Revista Médica del Hospital General de México

Fundraising

  • Almost three hundred and fifty dollars were collected for the year-end fundraising push

Research 

Workshop for 60 pre-medical students at Anahuac University South Campus

Workshop for 60 pre-medical students at Anahuac University South Campus

  • One line of experimental research about Trypanosoma cruzi has been active with Diego Alvarez, tutored by Ana María Fernández Presas, at the Ultrastructural Parasitic Laboratory in the Microbiology and Parasitology Department of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Master’s degree thesis)
  • One line of research about Leishmania mexicana has been active with Rosalino Vázquez, tutored by Laila Gutiérrez Kobeh, at the Experimental Medicine Department of the Hospital General de México (Doctorate’s degree thesis)

 

It is clear that the control, elimination and eradication of NTDs is a team effort. Having concluded the first six months of work and having beaten the challenges of a new startup project, now with full support of Tomás Barrientos Fortes, our Health Sciences Faculty director, we are committed to expanding our community and magnifying our response. Currently, we are working on scientific paper in collaboration with a team led by Gerald Oyeki, another END7 Campus Leaders Council member from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. We hope for a 2017 full of alliances and collaborations.

We are eager to continue making progress and are now planning for NTD Awareness Week. Since 2012, each year on January 30 we commemorate the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, which was inspired by the WHO’s 2020 Roadmap on NTDs. The London Declaration is special because it has been a keystone in the fight against NTDs, as several public and private sectors committed themselves to enhance a better and accelerated response by working together. Therefore, we celebrate NTD Awareness Week during the week following the London Declaration anniversary by spreading the word to build awareness and fundraise worldwide. We are planning to publish two pieces in a local newspaper and post on social media summarizing the END7 campaign’s achievements and the relevance of NTDs Awareness Week. We are also planning two events led by two of our strongest members. Our first event will be an acoustic night with Lalo Onti, a young Mexican musician on the rise who is lending his voice to fundraise for END7, is planned for Saturday, February 4 at La Peña del Sapo Cancionero, a venue with capacity for one hundred audience members. We are also organizing a week-long fundraiser on the “Responde A.C.” website, a Non-Governmental Organization led by Joanne Joloy.

Many students and professors think that they cannot make a big difference in the fight against NTDs if their area of expertise isn’t related to a medical career, but that’s not true, because these diseases doesn’t discriminate and every extra hand matters. Each of us has different abilities and skills, and by joining them, we will have more tools to tackle the burden of NTDs and lead people who suffer from them to a stronger and healthier future in our road to control, eliminate and eradicate several of them by 2020. So please, don’t hesitate in joining us, your contribution to this work can help save the life of someone affected by NTDs.

As a medical surgeon with interest and passion for infectious diseases, Diego Alvarez is currently studying a Master’s degree of Health Sciences at Anahuac University North Campus as he does laboratory research on Chagas disease at the Department of Microbiology and Parasitology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Also he has been working for several years on Antimicrobial Resistance at the Health Sciences Faculty of the Anahuac University North Campus. Today he works at the Coordination of Medical Services of the Mexican Red Cross PAR Huixquilucan Office and is a member of the END7 Campus Leaders Council and of the Young Researchers Track as well as the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Ending Suffering from Trachoma, One Surgery at a Time

Originally posted by the Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) Project.  

Christine undergoes trichiasis surgery. The drape over her face and the surgeon’s gloves, robe, face mask and cap help maintain the sterility of the surgical field.

“Before the surgery, I was always in pain and I couldn’t see properly. I was afraid to go outside. I rarely socialized. We had a good rainy season this year, but I wasn’t able to harvest anything.”

Christine Korogo was describing the effects of trachoma, an infectious eye disease caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. In the final stage, scarring causes the eyelid to turn inward and the lashes to scrape the cornea. If untreated the condition, called trichiasis, leads to blindness – and, all too often, loss of livelihood.

When I met Christine, her face was covered in a sterile blue drape, just one eye showing through. As a surgeon delicately operated, Christine conversed and laughed.

Villagers in Basnéré, Burkina Faso, are screened for trichiasis. Those found to have the blinding condition were offered free surgery. mmdp

Yaaba (grandmother) Christine is 67 years old and lives with her disabled husband, a co-wife, and elderly relatives in a village in Burkina Faso. Her five surviving children have grown and moved away. She and her husband scrape by on remittances from their migrant children, but making ends meet is a struggle. The prospect of seeing more clearly and being able to farm filled Christine with hope.

Surgery for trichiasis involves restoring the eyelid to the normal position. Christine’s surgery was provided by the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health, with support from the Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) Project, a multi-country project funded by the United States Agency for International Development and managed by Helen Keller International.

The tent in which Christine’s surgery took place. Inside is a simple operating room with a small table for instruments, an operating table, equipment for sterilizing instruments, and a surgeon’s stool.

The MMDP Project helps countries provide trichiasis surgery for populations in need. But even more important than the number of surgeries done is the quality of the surgeries. The MMDP Project’s mission is to ensure that patients receive the highest quality surgery possible. It does so by supporting rigorous training and certification for trichiasis surgeons, ensuring that surgical practices meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards, and by checking surgical outcomes to assure that quality controls are working.

During surgery campaigns, medical teams set up temporary operating rooms close to affected populations, whether in local clinics, schools, or special tents. The surgeon is typically a local Ministry of Health technician who has been trained by a national expert.

Christine rests after her surgery. The bandages will be taken off the next day. Stitches in her eyelids will remain in place for a week.

Trachoma, the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness, has long plagued areas where sanitation and water for washing are scarce. Today, 1.9 million people are blind or visually impaired because of trachoma, and 42 countries need interventions to eliminate the disease, according to WHO.

But a major battle against trachoma is making progress. In one of the largest public health endeavors in human history, WHO is leading an international alliance of Ministries of Health, nongovernmental organizations, research institutions and donors working to eliminate trachoma by 2020. Since 2011, the number of people at risk of trachoma has fallen nearly 40%, from 325 million to 200 million.

Through a national program that combines mass treatment with the antibiotic azithromycin and surgery for individuals with trichiasis, Burkina Faso – with support from USAID — has dramatically lowered trachoma prevalence and is well on its way to meeting WHO criteria for elimination. In the process, the country’s health system is growing stronger, with a newly trained cadre of health professionals prepared to provide high-quality, sight-preserving surgery for emerging trichiasis cases.

In her village of Basnéré, Christine got the news that a surgery team was coming from a town crier. The next day, inside a tent in a shady grove, Christine had the simple, quality surgery that will prevent her from going blind – and move her country and the world one step closer to ending the age-old scourge of trachoma.

John Uniack Davis is the West Africa Regional Director for Helen Keller International. He gathered impressions for this blog while observing a trichiasis surgery campaign in Burkina Faso in October 2016. Photos were taken by staff from the HKI Burkina Faso office.

Paul VI Hall photo

All Roads Lead to Rome: the Path to the Vatican Conference on NTDs

The Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers is hosting an International Conference on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and rare diseases November 10-12, 2016 at the Vatican, “Towards a Culture of Health that is Welcoming and Supportive at the Service of People with Rare and Neglected Pathologies.” Sabin President Dr. Peter Hotez will deliver the opening keynote on NTDs, an patient with the NTD lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) has been invited to offer a reflection and the event will end with an audience of more than 5,000 conference participants, patients, and family members with Pope Francis in Paul VI Hall.

The International Conference is expected to attract more than 500 participants from around the world, including many senior Catholic officials as well as leading NTD researchers and policymakers, to discuss both treatment and research issues related to NTDs and rare diseases. Notable speakers include Beatrice Lorenzin, the Minister of Health of Italy; Anthony Tersigni, CEO of Ascension, the world’s largest Catholic health system; and Ariel Pablos-Méndez, USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health.

Sabin is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the Pontifical Council to plan this exciting event. Attention by Pope Francis and other religious leaders could make a tremendous impact on the NTD control and elimination movement. As the world’s largest provider of healthcare services, the Catholic Church could play a significant role in this effort. A coordinated push by religious leaders and faith-based institutions to support the global effort to control and eliminate these diseases would improve the lives and safeguard the dignity of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people.

We’ve all heard the proverb “All roads lead to Rome” – the simple truth that many approaches can lead to one outcome. On November 10, three years of dialogue between Sabin and the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers – along many different paths – will culminate in Rome at this first-of-its kind conference.

Sabin cultivates partnerships across many spheres to advance the fight against infectious and neglected diseases. In 2013, Sabin established a relationship with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, created by Pope John Paul II in 1985 to coordinate and promote the health care work undertaken by the Church around the world and monitor national and international health care efforts to determine their pastoral repercussions for the Church. Sabin experts began meeting with leadership of the Pontifical Council, including its late President, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, and Under-Secretary, Father Augusto Chendi, in Rome to discuss the global NTD control and elimination effort and the critical role of the Catholic Church in providing healthcare and other social services around the world, particularly in poor communities at risk of NTDs. At the request of the Pontifical Council, Sabin prepared a concept note outlining a vision of four specific contributions the Church could make to advance the NTD effort: raising awareness of the burden of NTDs, both internationally to policy makers and locally within endemic countries; ministering to patients and their families to reduce stigma and fight discrimination; directly supporting NTD treatment and prevention programs through the Church’s vast network of hospitals, health centers, schools and parishes; and mobilizing resources from Catholic institutions and individuals and public investment by world leaders to support NTD treatment and advance research.

Sabin continued an exciting dialogue with Church leaders into 2014, facilitating an invitation to the president of the Pontifical Council, Archbishop Zimowski, to speak at the April 2014 launch of the second progress report of the London Declaration on NTDs at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, hosted by Uniting to Combat NTDs. While Archbishop Zimowski was unable to attend, he wrote a letter to conference participants at the event which stated:

“The Church, in her message of evanglisation, which is also expressed in capillary socio/health-care action in regions of the world that are still afflicted by neglected diseases, perceives how urgent it is, however, to make strengths converge and to animate public opinion in the face of pathologies which in less advanced countries are still endemic and constitute some of the causes that make their civil, social and economic development difficult.

“This shouldering of responsibility is seen as being urgent by this Pontifical Council of the Holy See as well, and to such an extent that is has been envisaged for the month of May in 2015 an international scientific congress, organized in the Vatican, which will specifically address the subject of ‘Rare and Neglected Diseases,’ ‘Diseases of Solidarity.’

“…While I in my official capacity…wish all the participants fruitful deliberations in the work that awaits you, I also hereby affirm that the results that you achieve will be held in due consideration, as will the experiences that you represent, in preparing for the next international scientific congress envisaged for next year in the Vatican, thereby ensuring a fruitful cooperation.”

Encouraged by the Pontifical Council’s decision to host an international conference to address NTDs, Sabin began advancing a faith-based message about NTDs in the media, including in a TIME op-ed entitled “White House, Congress Should Remember Pope Francis During Budget Process.” Then, ahead of Pope Francis’ historic address to the U.S. Congress in September of 2015, Sabin hosted a reception on Capitol Hill to celebrate the bipartisan commitment of the U.S. government in the fight against NTDs and build further support for the NTD cause among Members of Congress, the Administration, the broader policy community, private sector partners and Catholic leaders. Speakers at the “Call to Compassion” event included Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), member of the Congressional Caucus on Malaria and NTDs; Reverend Thomas Streit, C.S.C., Founder of the University of Notre Dame Haiti Program; Dr. Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health and Child and Maternal Survival Coordinator at USAID; and Dr. Leonard Friedland, Vice President and Director of Scientific Affairs and Public Health for Vaccines in North America at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Reverend Pat Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, concluded the program with a benediction.

DSC_0077

The next week, in his speech to Congress, Pope Francis reflected, “How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done…[and that] the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”

Building on this speech, and another delivered by Pope Francis to the United Nations General Assembly just before the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sabin CEO Michael W. Marine and Catholic Relief Services CEO Carolyn Woo co-authored an op-ed calling for the U.N. to formally adopt a global indicator for NTDs in the SDGs’ monitoring framework as a “demonstration of our solidarity with the poor.” Two weeks later, in a speech to U.N. officials in Kenya, Pope Francis explicitly called for international agreements to be shaped around the needs of the poor: “Certain health issues, like the elimination of malaria and tuberculosis, treatment of so-called orphan diseases, and neglected sectors of tropical medicine, require urgent political attention, above and beyond all other commercial or political interests.”

Sabin’s dialogue with the Pontifical Council continued into 2016 as planning for the conference, which had been rescheduled to November, accelerated. After a long battle with cancer, Archbishop Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council, passed away in July. He will be remembered as a compassionate leader in the effort to improve global health.  His commitment to addressing the health needs of the poor was integral to the decision to host the International Conference. It is clear that he was animated by the “missionary impulse” Pope Francis called the Church to rediscover in Evangelii Gaudium, to “go forth to everyone without exception…but above all the poor and sick” [48]. Msgr. Zimowski’s words and actions as the President of the Pontifical Council were an inspiration to all seeking to respond to this challenge.

Photo from June 2016 meeting

(Left to right) Fr. Augusto Chendi, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Sabin’s Emily Conron, Sabin CEO Amy Finan, Ruggero Panebianco and Giuseppe Recchia of GlaxoSmithKline meet in Rome to plan the International Conference.

In August, Pope Francis announced the creation of a new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, which will incorporate the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, “Cor Unum”, Health Care Workers, and Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. This dicastery, to be led by Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, will launch January 1, 2017, after which the four councils it replaces will cease their duties as separate bodies. Thus, the XXXI International Conference will be one of the final events hosted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, though the new Dicastery is expected to prioritize global health issues like NTDs through its new structure.

Sabin is grateful to have played a part in the planning of this historic event. As one of the world’s largest healthcare providers, the Catholic Church is in a unique position to leverage its influence in service of the global effort to control and eliminate NTDs by expanding treatment coverage, advancing research and development and ensuring the basic rights and dignity of patients. The International Conference has the potential to bring new partners, unique commitments, and renewed energy to the effort to end NTDs – for good.

“It’s When the Sun Rises and the Wind Blows.” On World Sight Day, Let’s Recommit to Ending Trachoma

Originally posted by the Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention Project

Across the globe, there are 200 million people at risk of trachoma, a preventable, blinding infectious disease.  More than three million people are in need of immediate surgery to avoid blindness due to trichiasis, a manifestation of trachoma that causes eyelashes to turn inward, scraping the cornea with each blink.  We blink 19,000 times a day.

One of the WHO-designated neglected tropical diseases, trachoma threatens the prosperity of families, communities, and nations, and fighting it greatly advances the Sustainable Development Goals addressing poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, water and sanitation, economic growth, and inequality.  Trachoma primarily affects impoverished communities, and women – the pillars of society – are up to four times more likely than men to have trichiasis.

When I began working on trachoma nine years ago, the fight to seriously seek disease elimination was just getting off the ground. We couldn’t yet say exactly how many cases existed or where the greatest implementation needs were, and most trachoma-endemic countries lacked the resources to reach the huge numbers of people in need of prevention and treatment services.

How different the picture is now!

Thanks to massive advocacy efforts, a coordinated mobilization of resources by multiple major donors has enabled countries to put in place a package of WHO-endorsed interventions to reach elimination known as the SAFE strategy (Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness, and Environmental improvement). Global epidemiological mapping of all areas suspected to have trachoma has been completed in what was the largest infectious disease mapping initiative ever. Based on lessons from countries far along in their SAFE Strategy implementation, preferred practices have been identified and shared widely to ensure all countries have the frameworks critical for effective programming.

With measureable daily progress, those of us working in trachoma understand that our collective efforts are making public health history.

Namalgbsom, who received trichiasis surgery from a mobile medical team in Burkina Faso. "My joy is 100 miles long," she said afterward.

Namalgbsom, who received trichiasis surgery from a mobile medical team in Burkina Faso. “My joy is 100 miles long,” she said afterward.

THE MOST POWERFUL MOTIVATION OF ALL

At the individual level, this means that millions of people will no longer face a future in which they can’t see well enough to work, care for their families, and live independently. Generations of children will not be taken out of school to care for their blind parents, breaking the cycle of poverty.

Something that has struck me most poignantly is the way people describe how trichiasis feels.  “Like grains of sand in the eye.” “A sharp pain.” “A constant stinging sensation.” “A living death.” No one can describe life with trichiasis – and the dramatic change that treatment brings – more movingly than those who have lived it.

I invite you to listen to and share the remarkable stories of three individuals who recently received sight-preserving trichiasis surgery in Burkina Faso. For me, the heartfelt words of people like Sabine, Salfo, and Namalgbsom provide the most powerful motivation of all to continue pushing toward elimination of this terrible disease.

Today on World Sight Day, we have good reason to celebrate the achievements so far. Let’s also make it an occasion to recommit for those who still need our support, those who will go blind if we don’t act now, those who have not yet been reached as Sabine, Salfo, and Namalgbsom have. Remarkably, the World Health Organization goal of eliminating trachoma as a public health problem by 2020 is within reach, but $700-800 million is still urgently needed to finish the job.

Describing her near lifetime of pain from trachoma, Namalgbsom said, “There is no specific time it occurs. It’s when the sun rises and the wind blows.” Together, we can make this a world where people like her do not fear the respite of a cool wind on a hot day or warm beams of sunlight on their face. We know what to do, we know where to do it, and we know how to do it.

We need to act with urgency, quality, and efficiency to meet the 2020 targets. Those not yet reached are depending on us.

About the author

Emily Toubali is director of the Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) Project, which helps countries provide high-quality treatment and care for people suffering from the debilitating effects of trachoma and lymphatic filariasis. The MMDP Project is funded by USAID and managed by Helen Keller International. www.MMDPproject.org