Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter once said, “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”
The London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases laid out what must be done: control, eliminate and even eradicate neglected tropical diseases, in short order. And, in many ways, the neglected tropical disease community is doing better than anyone ever thought.
The World Health Organization recently announced that a record 979 million people were treated for neglected tropical diseases in 2015. A total of 74 countries reported those treatments, for which 1.5 billion tablets were ordered in an effort to stop the spread of infections that take years of productive life from the most vulnerable of populations.
The results of that push by programs are stunning: The World Health Organization recently acknowledged Cambodia, the Cook Islands, Niue and Vanautu for eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem, joining Sri Lanka and the Maldives who celebrated the same milestone earlier this year. Onchocerciasis has been eliminated – as recognized by the World Health Organization – from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and now Guatemala. The historic 500 millionth dose of azithromycin for trachoma was administered in Ethiopia, where endemicity – the highest in any country – is on a dramatic decline.
That progress is due in large part to partnerships – especially those that cross sectors and programmatic boundaries. And collaboration is exactly what’s needed to reach the goals the community has committed to meet.
It is in that spirit that the Secretariat and donors planned this year’s meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases, or COR-NTD, with a wider variety of partners and topics than ever before. This year, the event will debut sessions on Chagas disease and antihelmintic drug resistance, bringing in partners from South America and from the research and development field, respectively.
This year’s panel discussions will focus on a range of cross-cutting topics, showcasing a wide array of voices. The meeting will open with a discussion on the role of women and girls in neglected tropical disease elimination, moving on to a panel on integrating neglected tropical disease programs, and closing with a conversation on how operational research translates into program implementation.
It wouldn’t be COR-NTD if we didn’t do something completely new. Those who attended last year enjoyed a photo gallery featuring nearly 100 images of partners’ work across the globe. In addition to a digital version of that resource, this year’s meeting will premiere an interactive innovation lab. During that session, attendees will have the opportunity to learn about new tools being deployed in the fight against neglected tropical diseases – and to interact with those creating them.
The most vital aspect of the meeting cannot be choreographed, however, and that is the contributions of its attendees. Your voices have been critical in the growth of this event, in more ways than one: The meeting’s format continues to evolve based on the survey feedback you provide. This year’s breakout lineup arose from an open call for proposals, resulting in more than 50 submissions. The outputs from those sessions ultimately inform the operational research agenda.
There are plenty of opportunities between now and November to make your voice heard. We welcome questions you’d like to pose to the panels described above. We invite discussions on Twitter, and encourage you to network with one another via the COR-NTD app. Finally, we hope you will consider contributing to this blog, sharing your experience at COR-NTD and what work on neglected tropical diseases means to you.
On behalf of the COR-NTD Secretariat and our generous donors the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, we are looking forward to our biggest meeting yet. With your input, this event stands poised to do what it has to, even better than we ever thought.