During the coronavirus pandemic, The Task Force for Global Health’s neglected tropical disease (NTD) programs have altered their operations based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations to ensure the health and safety of those we serve, our partners, and employees.
The Task Force is home to five programs focusing on the control and elimination of six NTDs. While many activities have been suspended, NTDs, like other diseases, know no boundaries and continue to affect people’s lives even during a pandemic, so our programs remain dedicated to addressing all projects that can be completed within the WHO’s COVID-19 guidelines and are supporting partner countries in special coronavirus-related scenarios to address this public health crisis.
Not only is remaining committed to the fight to beat NTDs important during this pandemic so that at-risk populations can live free of these diseases, but NTD program activities – water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) interventions and practices and the dedicated health workers who focus on NTDs for example – subsequently help strengthen various elements of a country’s health system so that countries are better positioned to respond to public health emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic today and tomorrow.
The following are descriptions of our NTD programs’ modified operations until the end of the coronavirus pandemic:
Children Without Worms (CWW)
CWW’s technical assistance to our National Program partners continues even as field operations have been suspended pursuant to WHO guidance.
CWW continues to lead the global NTD Supply Chain Forum (SCF) that consists of logistic partners, pharmaceutical partners, donors, couriers, and the WHO to review the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak on the supply chain for donated drugs. CWW was instrumental in convening over 50 SCF participants for a strategic teleconference in three days. The ability to virtually bring together this large group during a global health crisis is a testament to how NTD programs and countries rely on the forum as a source of supply chain expertise every day and during challenging times. This group will continue to monitor supplies and meet regularly.
CWW is also working with WHO to gather data from National NTD Programs on contingency plans and next steps via a web-based survey that provides details for each country
We continue to work on our longer-term projects such as NTD M&E, capacity strengthening, data analysis, and publications.
The STH Coalition and the STH Advisory Committee (STHAC) continue to proceed with quarterly, semi- and annual meetings/teleconferences. Key important STH related information is gathered by members and disseminated in various platforms (surveys, emails, teleconferences, website, etc.). CWW is working with WHO, STHAC members and partners to reschedule the side meeting on strongyloidiasis diagnostics from in-person to a smaller, virtual meeting (in Bangkok, satellite to a larger tropical and NTD conference that was just canceled). This will take place in September 2020.
Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL)
GPZL was launched in January 2018 to facilitate alignment of the leprosy community and accelerate effective collaborative action towards zero leprosy. The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted leprosy control and prevention, and as a result, GPZL’s Leadership Team has worked to identify the leprosy community’s key challenges and outline an emergency response plan for 2020. This plan will ensure that the GPZL’s substantial expertise and network is focused on the urgent situation being faced by National Leprosy Programmes, and persons affected by leprosy and their families. It will also help to prepare for 2021 onward, including the likely consequences of the pandemic around the world and the impact on the GPZL’s planned country partnerships.
GPZL’s three objectives for COVID-19 response in 2020 are:
- Chronicle and provide support for the urgent needs of national programs, particularly for access to MDT and follow-up care.
- Advocate for access to treatment and social services for persons affected.
- Be prepared post-pandemic.
To reach these objectives, GPZL has established three new term-limited working groups to mobilize the expertise and authority of the Leadership Team and key organizational experts.
International Trachoma Initiative (ITI)
During this global public health emergency, ITI is aware that the priorities of Ministries of Health and partners will shift. In accordance with WHO’s recommendation to postpone NTD activities, such as trachoma MDAs and other trachoma activities, ITI will follow countries’ plans of action.
ITI remains committed and at the service of their partners to ensure a world free from trachoma is possible.
Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC)
NTD-SC expects delays on many of their research projects, and their research team is currently canvassing principal investigators to determine the extent of these delays. Planning for their annual Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) meeting is ongoing, but they are researching alternative options to be prepared for all scenarios.
Mectizan® Donation Program (MDP)
MDP is assessing implications for the supply chain for Mectizan® to ensure 2020 shipments are sent and delivered on time despite mass drug administrations (MDA) and other onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis elimination activities being temporarily halted. They continue to carry on with other projects and plans to support the WHO Roadmap launch through their own communication projects and channels and are maintaining contact with countries to provide support wherever they can.
In response to COVID-19, they are working to disseminate the message that although ivermectin worked on COVID-19 in vitro, the doses required in humans is too high to warrant use for COVID-19 at this time.