Tackling Five NTDs in Colombia’s Amazonia Region

In the Vaupés province of Colombia live small, ethnically diverse and extremely disperse communities without access to basic health care or medicine to treat common diseases. These communities are hard to reach and even harder to treat for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Vaupés has become a priority area for NTD treatment due to the incredibly high rates of infection from diseases including trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths (STHs), scabies, tungiasis and pediculosis, which continue to afflict indigenous populations.

The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, in partnership with the AbbVie Foundation and Sinergias – Alianzas Estratégicas para la Salud y el Desarrollo Social, with support from the Colombian Ministry of Health and provincial and local health staff, supported a project to control, prevent and eliminate those five diseases in Vaupés. Focusing in the rural area of Mitú, a remote town in the Amazonia region, two rounds of mass drug administration (MDA) were carried out in late 2014 and in 2015. The MDAs reached 18 communities and almost 2,000 people (over 95 percent coverage), including school children. In addition to MDAs, field staff – indigenous nursing assistants – received training, delivered basic clinical services, provided household visits to families to discuss disease prevention, and held workshops to promote health habits in each community. A community health surveillance system that prioritized NTDs was also created in nine communities.

Participants in Vaupés community use photography to document and better understand NTDs.

During this project, communities participated in education, prevention and control through photography. Each community in the surveillance system received a camera to document and more easily recognize the visible signs of the targeted diseases. The cameras also enabled photo-voice, an educational photography technique with the goal of encouraging community members to understand the far-reaching ramifications of NTDs. Participants developed stories for use in future educational messaging, as seen in the posters below:

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Tackling NTDs in Colombia has been a focus of the Ministry of Health for a number of years, but due to the difficult terrain, isolated villages and migratory nature of much of the population in the Amazonia, MDAs have been both expensive and difficult to plan. This project supported two successful rounds of MDAs, created health surveillance systems and empowered communities to lead health improvement processes. It also gave residents a way to become actively engaged in health promotion through photography and story-telling. This collaborative effort will bring Colombia one big step closer to the prevention and control of five NTDs.