In May 2017, the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) announced the first-ever grantees of the African Researchers' Small Grants program. The six winners, selected from a pool of nearly 100 applicants, now receive support to conduct operational research to address issues facing efforts to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in their home countries of Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Togo.
Dr. Ameyo N. Monique Dorkenoo , an Assistant Professor at the University of Lomé, was selected for her proposal, "Monitoring migrant groups as a post-treatment surveillance approach to contain the potential risk of lymphatic filaraisis re-emergence after stopping mass drug administration in Togo."
In this Q&A, Dr. Dorkenoo talks about her experience with lymphatic filariasis (LF) and how her country is moving forward after the elimination of the disease as a public health problem.
Recently, Togo was the first Sub-Saharan African nation to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. How has that achievement affected you in your field?
This achievement in the fight against lymphatic filariasis has a positive impact on me in my field since my expertise is recognized by my peers. With my experience, I am also able to make my expertise available to other endemic countries.
How did you get involved with the study of lymphatic filariasis?
I have been involved in the early development of the majority of the operational research with national as well as international investigators, and I have initiated some researches. The specific aspects of the LF program in Togo have been taken into account to conceptualize studies in order to facilitate their implementation and obtain reliable results.
What does support from the African researchers' Small Grants Program mean to you?
These grants allow local investigators to initiate important research based on the needs they perceive themselves. This support allows them to develop the culture of operational research and to initiate innovative research to address some issues that are not yet in the list of activities recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The programs will also help surmount the difficulty of obtaining financial support to carry out our own research.
With research dollars behind your proposal, what will be the main goal you want to accomplish throughout the grant?
The objective of this research is to address the possible reintroduction and lack of detection of transmission areas likely to result in a resurgence of the transmission of LF after stopping mass drug administration (MDA) in the country. There is recurrent movement of the communities of the Savanes region in the northern part of the country, to the neighboring countries that are still endemic from LF. They could be a source of transmission resumption, and I would like to find a response to this issue and develop approaches to circumscribe it in the event of resurgence.
When you applied for the grant, you were concerned with, “Monitoring Migrant Groups as a post-treatment surveillance approach to contain the potential risk of Lymphatic Filariasis reemergence after stopping MDA in Togo”. What fate of answers do you expect to receive now that you're one of the SGP recipients?
To confirm whether or not migration poses a potential risk of reintroducing LF in Togo after its elimination has been validated by WHO. This will aid in understanding and developing others monitoring and surveillance strategies.
Sometimes professionals have setbacks to reach their goals. Have you experienced these holdups? If so, what kept you motivated to keep going forward?
Challenges present an extra incentive to be innovative. In the past, the major drawbacks I faced on some projects were the unstable political terrain, absence of standardized methodology and the enrollment of lower number of participants than what we planned. Though implementation strategies suffered minor delays, the objectives of the designed programs were eventually realized.
You have a long history of conducting operational research concerning implementation and monitoring of national NTD and malaria control programs in Togo and other West African countries. What were some strategies you leveraged to help reach positive outcomes in those areas?
The operational research approach has an intrinsic motivation if primary a clearly goal is defined. A crucial success factor is for the protocol to be well developed and for the baseline assessment to be conducted properly with valid findings.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I have not asked you about?
I encourage the ARNTD to continue exploring and expanding partnership programs aimed at supporting African scientists through such small grants.
The African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) is the only African-based network, spear-headed by Africans that does not exclusively focus on a single NTD or theme and is composed of individuals from a variety of disciplines across health, social, and management sciences, including policymakers. The ARNTD secretariat is based in Kumasi, Ghana, with membership spread across 30 countries.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential. Based in Washington, D.C., USAID extends help from the American people to achieve results for the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.
The Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) includes researchers, program implementers, and their supporters with the shared goal of optimizing the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. The COR-NTD secretariat is the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center, a program at The Task Force for Global Health in Decatur, GA, USA.
Photo: Monique Dorkenoo poses with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the 2016 meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD). (Photo by Michael Schwaz)