COUNTDOWN, a 7-year Implementation Research Consortium undertaken with £11 million funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, dedicated to investigating cost-effective, scale-up and sustainable solutions, necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs came to an end this October.
The multidisciplinary consortium brought together researchers from a range of backgrounds including policy makers, health care providers, laboratory scientists, research uptake specialists, Ministries of Health and Non-Government Development Organisations (NGDOs), and implementation research specialists from Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, the UK and the USA.
The aim of the programme was to increase the effectiveness of NTD programmes, with a focus on reaching poor and vulnerable groups and highlighting inequities, resulting in more people accessing appropriate interventions and receiving necessary treatments. COUNTDOWN bridged the knowledge to implementation gap for shared health impact and brought evidence-based innovations into routine services supporting the strengthening of health systems. With core values of promoting equity, rights and responsiveness to gender and disability, whilst using participatory approaches, it reached marginalised and vulnerable groups to ensure that no one is left behind, promoting community and health systems responsiveness and resilience, and capacity strengthening.
COUNTDOWN's multidisciplinary implementation research approach is highly regarded as a best practice model of NTD research. In particular, the use of social research to coproduce adaptions to NTD programmes demonstrates how barriers to access can be overcome and the impact of these multidisciplinary approaches has strengthened mass drug administration campaigns and supported those living with NTDs.
Some of COUNTDOWN’s work has involved piloting female genital schistosomiasis services at primary care level and raising the profile of the disease nationally and internationally. In addition, the consortium supported the NTD component of the annual operational plan for health intervention programmes in Ogun State in Nigera, the development of an NTD communication plan in Liberia, and worked towards the inclusion of NTD indicators in Ministry of Health management systems
Another major impact came from COUNTDOWN exploring ways to manage the symptoms and psychological impact of skin diseases such as lymphatic filariasis and leprosy. The stigma that comes with these conditions can have a devastating impact on those affected, as well as their families and communities. As such the work of the programme led to support groups being set up to provide a space where participants could support their peers and build networks, as well as sharing their experiences with those in positions of power.
COUNTDOWN has proven that collaborative design and implementation of peer-support groups for people affected by NTD morbidity and disability is essential, as is the critical role of sensitisation and trust in building awareness and acceptability, having a multidisciplinary approach and being responsive in identifying gaps and barriers in NTD control and elimination programmes.
Dr Divine of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health said: “The NTD program has finally gotten the answers to its numerous questions. Thank you, COUNTDOWN.” Others at the Nigerian Ministry of Health said “We had no FGS policy in Nigeria before this project and now we are developing one.”
The team have produced numerous videos including a training video on the Participatory Guide for Planning Mass Administration of Medicines.