New $29.9M Funding Boosts Fight Against Neglected Tropical Diseases

A new $29.97 million grant will build on the successes of a collaborative research partnership hosted by The Task Force for Global Health to control and eliminate five neglected tropical diseases.

The Task Force’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC) was awarded the five-year grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant funds NTD-SC to help improve the impact and effectiveness of NTD programs through the Support Center’s network of operational research partners. NTD-SC originally set up the network, Coalition for Operational Research on NTDs (COR-NTD), in 2013 with support from the foundation.

“The grant recognizes the model that has been built here with global health agencies, donors, implementing partners, and national programs targeting NTDs. We are here to help NTD programs solve problems in the context of their own countries,” says Patrick Lammie, PhD, chief scientist at The Task Force’s NTD-SC.

Since it began five years ago, COR-NTD has also received funding support from both USAID and UK Aid, allowing it to more than double in size; it has supported more than 180 studies with more than 100 international partners in 55 countries. The research has focused on advancing new diagnostics and surveillance tools along with protocols for their use that have responded to the specific needs articulated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  “The research results are themselves significant but it is their endorsement by the WHO that has led national programs to adopt the new approaches created through COR-NTD,” says Lammie.

NTD-SC Director Eric Ottesen, MD, says COR-NTD has become a hub for the exchange of programmatic information within the NTD community. “Operational research addresses barriers that ministries of health face to get essential medicines to people. It also helps programs know when treatments have succeeded and can stop,” he explained. “COR-NTD provides direct links between country programs and the global research and support communities so that we all understand the issues on the ground better.”

Lammie added that COR-NTD provides a platform for stakeholders to learn from shared experiences and explore solutions as a collective of engaged partners. “The network has proven to be critical when piloting new tools to assess and monitor treatment interventions. Our connections with these projects help to validate the tools and make it possible for national programs to roll out new strategies to accelerate program goals,” says Lammie.

Lammie points out that COR-NTD serves as an important bridge between program needs and donor interests. “We are translating the needs of the community into concepts that funders can support because they will understand that it offers a significant return on their investment.”

While each of COR-NTD’s funders has a unique set of objectives, Lammie says the complementary investment approach helps donors reap the collective benefit of the others’ focus areas – be it basic science principles, patient care activities, social justice and equity issues or disease elimination.

Lammie says that the overall conceptual framework of COR-NTD positions it well for expanding into other NTDs and deploying crosscutting surveillance strategies as countries close in on control and elimination goals. “There is a tremendous need for developing and testing new public health tools to help countries achieve and sustain success as they near the end of the road.”

COR-NTD largely focuses on five NTDs, all of which are preventable with annual mass drug treatments. Globally, these NTDs — lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis, and trachoma — affect more than a billion people. However, over the last decade tremendous progress has been made, and more than 25 countries have eliminated at least one NTD since 2012.

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