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Don’t neglect the neglected

ITM experts team up with Ethiopian partners to strengthen operational research capacities against neglected tropical diseases

Ethiopia has the third highest burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Africa. As an answer to a call from an Ethiopian NTD taskforce and international experts, ITM, WHO-TDR and partner institution University of Gondar successfully launched the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) on NTDs in Ethiopia, in 2018. At the end of August 2022, the second batch of students finished the SORT IT NTDs training. The project, based on collaboration between North and South,  strengthens research and knowledge management capacities to enable improvements in NTD interventions.

“Ethiopia is home to 17 of the 20 diseases categorised as NTDs. SORT IT supports countries to conduct operational research around their own priorities. With two cycles of courses on NTDs, we have enabled a group of young researchers to carry out operational research on NTDs, provide evidence to policy-makers, and  improve policy and practices in the national NTD programme,” says Prof Johan Van Griensven, ITM’s NTD expert and SORT IT mentor.

ITM ran the first cycle of the SORT IT on NTDs workshop in 2018 in Gondar, with 12 participants. Each SORT IT cycle is composed of three modules, which take participants from research protocol to published results. The training taught all levels of Ethiopian health ministry staff and local NGOs the practical skills for conducting and publishing research while cultivating evidence-informed decision-making. Participants also worked on 13 different study protocols for their next workshop in Gondar in March 2019 which were published in a special supplement of the Journal of Infections in Developing Countries (JIDC) in 2020.

Ethiopian medical doctor Samson Tekalign completed the first cycle if the course in 2019: “SORT IT equipped me with comprehensive, robust, and scalable public health skills. The initiative demystifies the operational research principles, boosts one’s critical thinking and problem-solving ability, and taught me well the realisation of thinking globally and acting locally.”

During the second cycle of SORT IT, in 2022, ten studies on NTDs have been completed at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI), in Addis Ababa, covering prioritised NTDs such as leprosy, trachoma, rabies, dracunculiasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, scabies, mycetoma and snakebite. This has culminated in the publication of a second supplement on JIDC.

The initiative is organised under the aegis of the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), hosted at the World Health Organization (WHO). It brought together more than 25 national and international institutions. On a global scale it will contribute to WHO’s NTD Road map for elimination by 2030.

With these initiatives we continue to bring NTDs into the spotlight, in order to capitalise the efforts for NTD elimination by 2030.

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