Category Archives: Africa

Every Sample is Someone’s Life: My Experience with NTD Field Research

 

By David Obadina

Northeastern University, where I am a junior majoring in International Affairs with a minor in global health, has an amazing co-op program through which students can go on six month internships anywhere in the world and work in an area of their interest. Having learned so much about neglected tropical diseases from classes and from serving on the END7 Student Advisory Board last spring, I was excited to be able to apply what I have learned and make a difference in this field during my co-op in the summer and fall of 2014 in Kumasi, Ghana.

For my co-op, I worked at the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) in their parasitology section. I had the opportunity to work in the lab and in the field to see and experience firsthand how NTDs like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, hookworm and roundworm are treated.

The field experience was one of a kind. The staff here at KCCR were all very friendly and dedicated to their jobs. When we would go out into the field, we would travel a few hours to remote villages where people do not have easy access to healthcare and set up our equipment in a nearby school. Then, the project leader would speak to the people in charge of the village and would explain everything they intended to do. People were eager to be tested and receive treatment for NTDs.

I worked on the field microscope that was testing people on site. Probably the most interesting and meaningful experience of the field work was when I would diagnose on site looking at blood under the microscope. When I found a worm in someone’s blood I would alert them and show them the worm under the microscope to explain to them the nature of the disease afflicting them. This fieldwork raised awareness of filarial disease among these communities and actively sought to educate the community members. I was honored to be a part of this work and have gained a whole new real world perspective when it comes to the reality of NTDs and those affected by them.

Working in the laboratory, while it may not sound as exciting as the field, has been just as intriguing and is extremely essential to understanding these diseases. Something that was stressed every day in the lab is that every sample is someone’s life. Every single sample of blood that we diagnose and analyze holds meaning and is of high importance. Every diagnosis we make, whether negative or positive, has an immense effect on the lives of everyone involved, and that cannot be taken lightly.

I first became involved in the END7 campaign after being introduced to it by my epidemiology professor, Dr. Richard Wamai, in the fall of 2013, and joined the team that formed the END7 club at Northeastern. We planned many educational events and raised funds for END7, but last semester, I had the eye-opening opportunity to be on the other side of the fight against NTDs during my co-op. Now, I believe I’m better prepared to advocate for global equality and the rapid treatment of neglected diseases. At END7 events hosted at Northeastern, people would sometimes ask what it’s like for people with these diseases or how someone with an NTD looks. I could give an educated answer from what I had studied about the disease or things I had heard at global health conferences, but I couldn’t really give an accurate first hand account. After my co-op experience, I know I’ll be much more confident in giving an accurate depiction of the wide-ranging effects of NTDs on human life.

My co-op experience helped me grow in many ways. I learned a great deal about parasitology, global health networks, and what it really means to work in this field and make a difference in the lives of others. Now that I’m back in Boston, I am excited to begin another semester of education, advocacy, and fundraising with END7 at Northeastern this spring.

With END7 Support, Nigeria Reaches More Communities at Risk for NTDs

 

Photo by MITOSATH

Photo by MITOSATH

All seven of the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are found in Nigeria. With an estimated 100 million people at risk for at least one NTD, Nigeria has the highest burden in Africa.

While Nigeria has a multi-year plan to control or eliminate the seven most common NTDs by 2020 –additional resources are still needed to reach all communities at risk of contracting NTDs.

To support Nigeria’s NTD efforts, the END7 campaign donated $84,000 towards MITOSATH, a Nigerian nonprofit organization that works to control and eliminate NTDs within the country. Specifically, END7 funds supported MITOSATH’s efforts in Bauchi State.

Thanks to the generosity of END7 supporters, more than 2,500 school teachers, community drug distributors and health facility staff members were trained on how to carry out a mass drug administration (MDA). END7 funds also supported MITOSATH’s efforts to increase awareness among community members about NTDs.

In total, these combined efforts ensured the treatment of more than 740,000 people in three Local Government Areas (LGAs) within Bauchi state. Even more, 9,000 of these were school children who were treated for schistosomiasis and intestinal worms for the first time, signaling another step towards NTD control and elimination!

Photo by MITOSATH

Photo by MITOSATH

 

IMA Tanzania a Key Player in Massive National Vaccine and MDA Campaign

 

Image from IMA World Health

Image from IMA World Health

The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases is happy to share news from IMA World Health. A first of its kind for Tanzania, the national co-implemented immunization and mass drug administration strengthened the country’s integrated efforts to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases. 

On Saturday, October 18, IMA World Health participated in a special event in Dodoma, Tanzania, to launch the 2014 national co-implemented immunization and mass drug administration (MDA) campaign to protect 21 million children against measles, rubella and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). One of the largest public health intervention efforts ever staged in Tanzania, the 2014 campaign will run from October 18-24.

The annual event was convened and attended by the Government of Tanzania, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and numerous other partners.

For the past four years, IMA has been MDA for NTDs in Tanzania through the USAID-funded ENVISION Project, led by RTI International. With over $5 million in annual support, IMA has distributed preventive treatment to more than 14 million people across 9 regions of Tanzania, as well as trained 5,000 health workers and over 10,000 community volunteers.

Jim Cox, Country Director for IMA Tanzania, commented in a speech at the October 18 event, “As IMA celebrates its 20th anniversary in Tanzania… we are proud to be part of this first-ever joint NTD and immunization campaign, which lays the groundwork for healthy communities throughout Tanzania.”

IMA works with the Tanzania Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) to support implementation of the integrated five-disease NTD control program targeting onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, LF, and STH using MDA in the community and schools.

Photo from IMA World Health

Tearing Down the Roadblocks: Another Look at Building the Resilience of Smallholder Farmers

 

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As I drove home from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport earlier this month, I could not help but notice the electronic bulletins on the I-95 and Capitol Beltway that flashed “D.C. Event Aug 4-6, expect delays.” The event, of course, referred to the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, while the delays referred to the inevitable abundance of motorcades.

During the span of those three days, nearly 50 African heads of state gathered in Washington, D.C. for discussions with President Obama, administration officials and business leaders on a range of topics under the theme of “Investing in the Next Generation.” While we expected many roadblocks to be put up around D.C. that week, we were hoping that one major development roadblock would be pulled down during the Summit: neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

These parasitic and bacterial infections affect 1.4 billion people living in poor and marginalized communities around the world, particularly in agricultural populations. Once infected, poor communities remain impoverished due to resulting physical and mental disabilities, including blindness, anemia, immobility, delayed cognitive development and social stigma. NTDs leave children too sick to attend school and keep adults from working. And because NTDs destroy vital social and economic capital, controlling and eliminating these diseases must be an essential element of the emerging new Africa that is increasingly seeking growth through business opportunities.

Regretfully, NTDs and the roadblock they raise against productivity and prosperity were not prioritized at the Summit (outside of a mention in USAID’s press release about its major initiatives). While we were happy to see impressive new private-sector commitments to electricity and food security, particularly to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, the omission of NTDs from those conversations and commitments signaled a missed opportunity for US-Africa relations.

For example, over the past two years, private companies, philanthropists and governments have committed an astounding $10 billion for agriculture investments in Africa through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. This initiative was launched in 2012 to build on the commitments made by G7/8 leaders to achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth, food security and good nutrition in the region over the next ten years.

While the New Alliance (and many other initiatives) is undeniably doing great work at strengthening the resilience of agricultural communities in Africa, fighting NTDs is an immediate and cost-effective opportunity that is available now to expand and strengthen these efforts. By working to reduce the incidence of NTDs in Africa, partners could positively impact the New Alliance’s same target areas, and more importantly, the poorest populations most affected by poor nutrition and food security.

Because Africa’s core agricultural workforce — smallholder subsistence farmers — are disproportionately affected by NTDs, the billions of dollars in agricultural investments made by governments and the private sector could be undermined if NTD control and elimination is not prioritized. In fact, smallholder farmers will be less productive and derive fewer benefits from New Alliance funding if NTDs are not addressed.

NTD infections also prevent people from enjoying the benefits of having access to a diverse, nutrient-rich diet. Roundworms, for example, compete with children for key nutrients and vitamins in order to grow. As a result, roundworm infections and other NTDs have serious consequences on a child’s growth and development, leading to micronutrient deficiencies, stunting and overall poor nutritional status.

Simply put, the New Alliance’s goals of achieving food security and good nutrition in Africa cannot be fully and sustainably achieved without addressing NTDs.

Many incredible (and highly cost-effective) victories have been won in the fight against NTDs, but greater investments are still needed to help smallholder farmers overcome the first basic roadblock to doing good business. Tackling NTDs truly helps communities invest in the next generation by offering them the opportunity to participate in their own sustainable solutions to poverty.

Watch for more information from the Global Network on the important linkages between NTDs and nutrition in the coming months!