SAFEly Combatting Trachoma across Africa

 

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By Anna Massey, Head of Strategic Government Partnerships at Sightsavers

When it comes to tackling the largest infectious cause of blindness in the world – trachoma – it is widely agreed that the SAFE strategy is key in moving towards elimination. Recommended by the World Health organization (WHO), the strategy aims to reduce the burden of the disease, especially in Africa where it is highest, by addressing: Surgery (lid surgery to correct trichiasis); Antibiotics (Zithromax® donated by Pfizer to treat and prevent active infection); Facial cleanliness (to prevent disease transmission); and Environmental change (such as the construction and use of latrines to control flies, and provision of accessible water to allow face washing).

Excitingly, the situation will now change dramatically in six Sub-Saharan countries over the coming five years with the UK government announcing an investment of £39 million to help support the elimination of trachoma in countries like Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania through the SAFE strategy. Being implemented by a consortium of International Coalition for Trachoma Control (ICTC) members and managed by NGO Sightsavers, programme work will begin on the ground in Autumn.

The burden of the disease has already largely been surveyed in these countries, through the UK government supported Global Trachoma Mapping Programme (GTMP). For example Ethiopia, where the GTMP has supported the Ministry of Health to examine 430,000 people across seven regions, has approximately 30 per cent of the known global trachoma burden, so this support is much needed.

For countries such as Chad this crucial investment will see a rapid expansion of the nascent trachoma programmes and will hopefully be a catalyst for further support in fighting trachoma and stopping people needlessly living in pain and ultimately losing their sight.

Whilst this project will see 165,000 trichiasis surgeries performed and almost 10 million people treated with antibiotics, in addition to increasing access to water and instigating behavioural changes to reduce transmission of the disease, there is further good news for the broader NTD community. The implementation of the SAFE strategy and particularly the F&E components will also yield broader benefits including potential reductions in the burden of other infectious diseases, including cholera, typhoid and other NTDs (schistosomiasis, STH, Guinea worm), plus other diarrheal illnesses.

Through the programme, links will be made with other NTD projects in these countries to ensure a holistic push to make a dent in the significant and debilitating burden placed on these poor communities by NTDs such as trachoma. The provision of infrastructure around this planned scale-up of SAFE activities will support control of trachoma and provide a platform for strengthening other NTDs and health interventions.

The ICTC programme Advisory Committee will be providing technical and quality assurance guidance for the programme, which will include support from a series of structured working groups on technical programmatic practices.

Sightsavers itself will be drawing on its expertise of working with partners and Ministries of Health in African nations through other trachoma-related projects such as GTMP, The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Trachoma Initiative and a DFID-funded UNITED programme to tackle NTDs in Nigeria to ensure efficiencies, collaborations and ultimately success!

New World Bank Video Shows an Amazing River Blindness Success Story

 

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To celebrate the remarkable progress made against river blindness (onchocerciasis) in Africa since the formation of a tremendous public-private partnership to combat the disease forty years ago, global partners recently gathered at World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. Leaders poignantly spoke about how this country-owned, community driven effort — the World Bank’s first health project — carried out through the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) between 1974-2005, and the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) between 2005-present, is now reaching 100 million people in 31 countries annually thanks to bold visions, clear strategies and the collaboration of partners.

To coincide with OCP/APOC’s 40th anniversary, a new World Bank video narrates the unlikely story of how insecticide and Mectizan (ivermectin) — a pill donated by Merck for free for as long as needed — have transformed the lives of millions of people. Generating blindness, impaired vision and severe itching, among other effects, river blindness once devastated entire communities. The disease left people unable to farm for sustenance and a living, inhabit land in river valleys and take care of their families.

But, with insecticide sprayed by helicopters, and eventually the distribution of ivermectin in all affected countries, some areas are free of the disease. 25 million hectares of arable land — enough to feed 17 million people — are now freed up for use.

By 2025, we can eliminate river blindness in Africa and end the cycle of poverty caused by this horrific disease. But, we must continue to mobilize and pool resources, increase country leadership and integrate efforts to accomplish this goal.

Congratulations to all of the APOC partners fighting for a brighter, healthier future!

Make sure to watch the full video:

Ghana Launches NTD Master Plan, Mass Drug Administration Campaign, Celebrates Billionth NTD Treatment

 

The Global Network is happy to share END in Africa’s announcement congratulating Ghana on the launch of its NTD master plan and and 2014 strategic mass drug administration campaign. View the original post here

On Thursday, July 3, 2014, the Government of Ghana launched both its Ghana Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) master plan and its 2014 strategic mass drug administration (MDA) campaign, while also celebrating the One Billionth NTD Treatment delivered globally with USAID support. USAID funds the END in Africa project, which supports Ghana Health Services (GHS) and the Ghana’s NTD program in providing medicines that protect 26.3 million Ghanaians from contracting NTDs such as trachoma, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminths.

Ghana Minister of Health Hon. Sherry Ayittey with Queen Mothers from the Greater Accra Region

Ghana Minister of Health Hon. Sherry Ayittey with Queen Mothers from the Greater Accra Region at Ghana NTD Master Plan and 2014 MDA Campaign Launch. Photo: FHI360

At a colorful event at Accra’s La Beach Hotel today, Ghana’s Minister of Health Hon. Sherry Ayittey presided over the launch of the country’s NTD master plan and 2014 MDA campaign. Along with Acting Director of USAID/Ghana Peter Trenchard, the Hon. Minister Ayittey presented certificates and awards to Community Health Volunteer Madam Mary Becheyiri and NTD Program Technical Officer Mr. Alhassan Ahmed, who represented the many thousands of unsung heroes in Ghana’s NTD elimination and control efforts.

Ghana Minister of Health Hon. Sherry Ayittey and USAID/Ghana Acting Director Andrew Karas Present Award to Community Health Volunteer Madam Mary Becheyiri, who was selected as one of Ghana's NTD unsung heroes

Ghana Minister of Health Hon. Sherry Ayittey and USAID/Ghana Acting Director Peter Trenchard Present Award to Community Health Volunteer Madam Mary Becheyiri, who was selected as one of Ghana’s NTD unsung heroes. Photo: FHI360

Under the direction of Rebecca Ackwonu, Public Relations Officer for the Director General of the GHS and Master of Ceremonies for today’s event, a symbolic MDA took place, led by a community health volunteer. The event was chaired by Nii La Mantse, a paramount chief of La, where the event took place.

Also in attendance were Acting Director of USAID’s Ghana Mission Peter Trenchard, Queen mothers from the Greater Accra Region, Director General of the Ghana Health Service Dr. Ebenezar Appiah-Denkyira, Ghana NTD Programme Manager Dr. Nana Kwadwo Biritwum, as well as many other directors and programme managers from the Ghana Health Service. NTD partners from organizations such as END in Africa, FH1360, the Volta River Authority, the Partnership for Child Development, Liverpool Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), Sight Savers Ghana, the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) were also represented.

For an overview of the day’s activities, see the Ghana Event Program Agenda.

Read the story on the event published in Ghana’s Daily Graphic Newspaper.

When the Right to Health Becomes a Battle for Recognition & Dignity

 

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The following post is an opinion piece from Jeanne Chauffour, a student at the University of Chicago*

Health is a human right. This phrase is clearly stated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), along with a long list of other highly-held treaties and conventions. For countries having ratified these treaties, the right to health should be strongly defended. Unfortunately, health is still a commodity or unattainable luxury for millions of people around the world – both in developed and developing nations.

Longstanding efforts certainly exist to remedy the great health inequalities of our time; millions of dollars a year are donated to large organizations, agencies, and bodies who strive to improve health and wellbeing in the most impoverished settings across the world. And for the most part, they have done good work – we have reduced maternal mortality rates, and the AIDS-free generation is a tangible reality. Yet, one health issue that continues to be underfunded and underprioritzed is neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs.

Health is a human right. And NTDs are a serious health concern. There are seventeen NTDs that currently plague our planet –, seven of which represent 90 percent of the global burden. NTDs are the most common affliction among the world’s poorest people, but they are often ignored because they mostly infect those living in rural poverty. The individuals infected with NTDs are rarely the focus of media attention.

NTDs have been referred to as “the forgotten disease of the forgotten people,” causing disfigurement (swollen abdomens and limbs), rashes, and inverted eyelashes, and fueling stigma — making it harder for those affected to break the cycle of poverty. NTDs can also lead to long-term disabilities and other health issues such as blindness. In many cultures, the condition of those suffering from NTDs is perceived to be a curse or a sin, and the stigma can affect an entire family. I cannot even come close to imagining the life and mental health conditions of the millions of people worldwide living with NTDs.

NTDs can also cause stunted growth and malnutrition. In addition, NTDs are directly correlated to the first six Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, that have guided our international development efforts over the past fourteen years. Our failure to adequately address the NTD burden may have contributed to our failure to reach many of the MDGs, which will be replaced by new UN goals later this year.

The unfortunate truth is that some diseases that affect western communities (such as cancer, diabetes or HIV/AIDS) are propelled to the forefront of research, while other treatable diseases not found in the developed world receive less attention and funding. NTDs have been around for hundreds of years, and some of their treatments are decades old, yet they lag behind other conditions in the attention they receive from the global community.

Luckily, a solution exists, and recent efforts have raised the visibility of NTDs on the global health agenda. On January 30, 2012, the London Declaration on NTDs was signed by the WHO, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, thirteen pharmaceutical companies, and leaders from the US, UK and UAE. These stakeholders committed to ensuring the resources necessary to end the public health threat of ten of the most common NTDs by 2020, and progress since has been impressive.

Even more, some countries have been successful in eradicating or eliminating NTDs over the past few years: Oman has eliminated trachoma, Colombia has eliminated onchocerciasis, and Nigeria eradicated guinea worm disease. In all, over 70 countries have developed multi-year integrated NTD plans, and the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a landmark resolution on all 17 NTDs in May 2013.

The London Declaration has been a huge step forward in solidifying the commitment of pharmaceutical companies to donate the medicine needed to protect a person from the seven most common NTDs for one whole year. National governments coordinate the distribution of the medicine with local health workers who administer the medicine during annual mass drug administrations (MDAs). But a large funding gap persists that limits our efforts to scale up treatment to everyone who needs it.

Health is a human right. And so are many other things: free speech, choice of religion, participation in civic and political life and education. Yet, health is and should be perceived as one of the fundamental rights humans have, without which the exercise of their other rights and freedoms is limited or nonexistent. Health more than any other factor determines livelihood and the capacity to improve one’s own condition.

Health is the driving mechanism to generate wealth, access, and success in many other types of activities – being able to vote, being able to go to school, contributing to the progress and growth of your country’s economy, being able to choose a respectful partner and have healthy children of your own.

Health is a human right, and any phrase related to health with the word “neglected” in its title must find justice, especially when we are equipped with all the tools that we need to succeed. It is only when these basic health inequities will be solved that our world will truly be able to pull the most and the best from individuals’ potential. Health is a human right.

 *Jeanne Chauffour is a rising fourth year undergraduate student at The University of Chicago where she studies in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine (HIPSS) and Human Rights departments. Jeanne is the 2014-2015 Internal Co-President at GlobeMed at the University of Chicago, a student global health non-profit organization she has been a part of since her freshman year. Jeanne is also involved in community health with Students for Health Equity, the Student Health Advisory Board, the University of Chicago Center for Global Health, and Ci3. In October 2014, Jeanne will be a delegate at the Millennium Campus Conference.