Joining in the Fight to Beat Neglected Tropical Diseases: Account from a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow

In this blog post, Ahlam Awad Mohammed writes about her experience with the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship. In that role, she has worked with the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC)–a program of The Task Force for Global Health–observing, assisting with, and developing case studies for various NTD projects based in Ethiopia.

This blog was originally published by the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship.

 

 

Sometimes things just come together.

When I applied for the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship through The Task Force for Global Health (TFGH), it was at a point in my career when I had decided to change gears. I had obtained my Master of Public Health degree with the goal of working in global health, specifically in infectious diseases and maternal and child health. However, most of my public health work experience prior, during, and right after graduate school focused primarily on research based in the U.S. I wanted to focus on global health again, use the skills I acquired through my professional and educational experience thus far, and leverage my language proficiency in French, English, Arabic, and Amharic to contribute to a global health cause. Imagine my delight when I found a fellowship opportunity in global health with a focus on neglected tropical diseases and in the country where I grew up: Ethiopia.

Ahlam with child

Incidentally, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are are all about coming together, as well. These communicable diseases affect more than a billion people around the world, mainly in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. That number is coming down, thanks to ongoing collaborations among international partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), endemic countries, non-governmental organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and donors. These groups are working closely together to control, eliminate, and eradicate at least 10 of the most common NTDs on WHO’s list by 2020.

Already, countries are beginning to bid NTDs adieu. For instance, Mexico, Morocco, and Oman are a few of the countries that have achieved WHO validation for eliminating trachoma, a bacterial eye disease that is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. However, many other countries are still far behind their goals. Therefore, there is still a great deal of work to be done in NTDs to improve the lives of the estimated 1.4 billion people suffering worldwide.

Armed with this knowledge, I was thrilled to receive the fellowship. I was extremely excited for the opportunity and ready for the challenges that would come along. The fellowship included a few weeks of orientation, training, and meetings at the TFGH office in Decatur, Georgia, then the field work in Ethiopia. The plan was for me to follow along the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) of Ethiopia during the national rollout of a new rapid and inexpensive tool for supervising and monitoring coverage of preventive treatments for NTDs, called the Supervisor’s Coverage Tool (SCT) that was recently endorsed by the WHO.

I was also involved in other trachoma research studies in Ethiopia supported by the TFGH. These studies focused on 1) a four-year follow-up study on the outcomes of two different types of surgeries used in trachoma treatment in adults and 2) the evaluation of the immunological response to the trachoma-causing bacteria compared to the visual clinical manifestation of the active infection in children. For all of the studies, I was in charge of both assisting with the projects in the field and developing case studies for advocacy purposes.

Due to various reasons ranging from coordination issues to bureaucracy, budget, and political unrest in some districts, all the projects experienced significant delays, which were learning experiences in and of themselves. Indeed, despite the many delays, the overall experience and exposure was invaluable. With each delay and challenge, I learned to be more proactive, patient, and flexible–with guidance and support from my amazing TFGH mentor all along the way.

While some of our plans had to change and at times on the spot, traveling to various regions of the country for the field work not only allowed me to get first-hand account of the activities in the field, but also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with various partners involved (FMoH, International Trachoma Initiative (ITI), Berhan Public Health and Eye Care Consultancy, Orbis, The Carter Center, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and RTI). Even after my fellowship is over, I hope to continue working with these same partners and others, to continue the fight against NTDs until they are eliminated. Together, we will beat NTDs!

Lastly, I am grateful for the Hilton Prize Coalition and The Task Force for Global Health for this opportunity and the continuous support I received from both organizations throughout the fellowship. I appreciate their involvement in helping me transition into and cultivate passion for this field, and for instilling knowledge, practice, patience, and persistence within me.

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

Photos:  1. Ahlam Awad Mohammed at The Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, Georgia  (Chelsea Toledo/Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center)

2. Ahlam Awad Mohammed in Dedo district outside of Jimma, with lab technician Biniam preparing to collect a blood spot from a young boy   (Courtesy of Ahlam Awad Mohammed)