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Woman with uSF baseball cap wading in river

COPH student Caitlin Wolfe in Senegal collecting samples for a project on schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease that can cause anemia, malnutrition and damage to organs. (Photo courtesy of Wolfe)

COPH doctoral students team up with WHO to examine eradication, control of neglected tropical diseases in Africa

USF College of Public Health (COPH) doctoral student Caitlin Wolfe has spent a decade collaborating with World Health Organization (WHO) colleagues in the African region on disease outbreak response initiatives, including those surrounding neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). 

When she was approached by WHO to document the global health efforts in combating NTDs in Africa, she didn’t hesitate to say yes and recruited fellow COPH doctoral student Adriana Campos to help. Together the two, along with colleagues Dr. Abbie Barry and Nichola Richards, have authored “Ending the neglect: Lessons from a decade of success in responding to NTDs in the African Region,” a report published on the WHO’s website in August.

“We, along with our colleague Abbie, were involved with every aspect of the scoping review this report was based on—from designing the methodology, developing the search strategies, conducting the title/abstract/full-text review, data extraction and analysis to writing the full report,” said Wolfe, who is concentrating in global communicable diseases. “There was vested interest in the findings of this scoping review, as the communicable and non-communicable diseases cluster within the WHO Regional Office for Africa wanted to use the findings to inform strategic priorities and conversations with donors.”

An abbreviated version of the report was disseminated by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Global Health Now in October, reaching around 50,000 readers.

campos presenting research

                                                     Adriana Campos presenting research. (Photo courtesy of Campos)

According to Campos, the successful control and eradication of NTDs in Africa can be attributed to a variety of factors, including mass drug administration, vector and environmental control and health education.

“It was evident that interventions involving locals within the community (e.g., community-directed treatment with Ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasitic diseases such as river blindness) or attempting to understand their knowledge, attitude or perceptions on NTDs also heavily influenced community intervention acceptance and involvement,” said Campos, who is concentrating in epidemiology. “Additionally, innovative technology such as new test assays or surveillance systems helped overcome previous barriers found in NTD control, elimination and eradication. And lastly, NTD focus and international commitment have increased in the past decade.”

Wolfe noted that moving forward, an integrated approach to combatting NTDs will be more effective than focusing on specific diseases. 

“More attention is needed on NTD elimination, eradication and control efforts among mobile or displaced populations, as these important subpopulations may be a source of re-emergence or recrudescence as countries move to interrupt transmission,” Wolfe said. “Similarly, there is a need to address the NTD elimination, eradication and control efforts in areas that are hard to reach, either due to remoteness or security concerns. Without doing so, transmission of these diseases will persist.”

The duo, along with their colleagues, have recently had a manuscript based on this scoping review published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. 

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