International Volunteer Day 2017: From a Researcher's Perspective

Volunteers play a critical role in the fight for elimination and control of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Today, on International Volunteer Day, several researchers at The Task Force for Global Health share the vital contributions volunteers make to operational research that aids in this effort.

Distributing Medicines

“The whole preventive chemotherapy or Mass Drug Administration strategy is dependent on volunteers – people from the community who step forward or are nominated by their communities to go door-to-door or otherwise deliver drugs to people who need them in the community.  In the last 20 or 25 years, community volunteers have become the indispensable workforce for this global effort to control and eliminate five neglected tropical diseases.”  – David Addiss, former director, Children Without Worms

“The community drug distributors (CDDs) are the volunteers that are essential to NTD programs around the world. Their primary role is to distribute drugs to their communities. When I was with teams in Nigeria working pre iTAS (a community-based survey involving rapid diagnostic testing for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis), CDDs were extremely helpful. CDDs helped organize participants at the study sites and helped the work run smoothly.” – Kira Barbre, Senior Program Associate, NTD Support Center

Mobilizing Communities

“On a recent trip to the Philippines we were relying on community health volunteers to help us track down specific households in a village that had been selected to participate in our study.  This particular health volunteer was so incredibly proud of her work in the community that after we finished our household sampling, she grabbed me by the arm and took me on a tour through the village, personally introducing me to all the people for whom she had provided preventative treatment for lymphatic filariasis. I was struck by how appreciative the community members were for the services she provided, which ranged from treatment for lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis, to other health promotion and disease awareness campaigns that she regularly undertook during the year.  The day ended with an impromptu party and rambutan feast at her home.  Her energy and enthusiasm were infectious; it was definitely a day to remember.” – Katie Gass, Director of Research, NTD Support Center

“In our first early days of lymphatic filariasis control in Haiti, the first round of Mass Drug Administration on the first day brought in lower levels of community engagement and participation than we expected.  It was the community volunteers that redoubled their efforts going in to the community and described the benefits of the medicine, answering any questions.  It was done in a very timely manner and that brought the coverage up to levels that were required.  So, they have not only the job of physically delivering the medication but serving as this vital interface between these programs which are run largely at the national and district level and in the remote communities.”  – David Addiss, former director, Children Without Worms

Informing Research

“Participants in studies are volunteers. They volunteer to complete survey, to give blood via finger stick, to take part in clinical trials, etc. Many times, study participation can be time-consuming and uncomfortable. Participants take time out of their daily lives to contribute to knowledge that will improve program delivery in their own communities and others around the world.” ­­– Kira Barbre, Senior Program Associate, NTD Support Center

Building Bridges

“Community health volunteers are the unsung heroes of the public health world.  I was lucky enough to live with and work alongside community health volunteers for two years as part of my Peace Corps service.  I remain in awe of their fierce sense of service and commitment to their communities, despite personal hardships and sacrifice, and attribute my passion for global health to the lasting impression they left.  In my current profession, I have the pleasure of continuing to interact with community health volunteers through operational research.  We often rely on these volunteers to serve as guides, helping the study teams to identify all the households in a village, acting as a liaison between the survey teams and the community residents, and communicating important information in the local dialect.  Though these volunteers are often compensated for this day of service to the study teams, the majority of their work for the NTD programs remains undervalued and undercompensated.” – Katie Gass, Director of Research, NTD Support Center

“They’re translators that have one foot in the community but also one foot into this global program.  They occupy, I think, the most crucial role in the entire NTD effort.” – David Addiss, former director, Children Without Worms

 PHOTO: Community volunteer in Mindoro Island, Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Katie Gass)