By Julie Irving, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
COUNTDOWN partners gathered together today for the official launch of the programme. After a week of productive and enjoyable inception planning workshops, it was a valuable culmination of reflections of the current partner country situations, bottlenecks to Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) control and planning for multidisciplinary priority areas.
COUNTDOWN is a unique programme for Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in particular, as it brings together multiple staff from across our Deaneries, Clinical Sciences and International Public Health, and Parasitology and Vector Biology. All of whom are excited and enthusiastic to be working together on this cross disciplinary programme, funded by The Research and Evidence Division (RED) of The Department for International Development (DFID).
The consortium has representation from the UK, USA and Africa, with the aim of generating knowledge about the realities of increasing the reach of NTD interventions, in different contexts. It was motivating and moving to hear about the different settings and stages of integration of NTD programmes in Ghana, Cameroon and Ebola affected Liberia. All partners have been very engaged when sharing ideas and experiences both good and bad. I am looking forward to delving deeper into each country scenario and the NTD world, learning from our partners and supporting research uptake, programme and research management.
At the launch Sally Theobald moderated a panel discussion: ‘Situating COUNTDOWN in the Wider Neglected Tropical Disease and Health System World’ which stimulated a lot of audience participation. There was a real sense of collaboration and commitment from all stakeholders in support of COUNTDOWN’s ultimate goal, Implementation themes and approaches. In order to take forward the current needs and prioritises of our country partners and the wider international community.
The issue of sustainability and future drug supply was a hot topic, as there will come a time when drug companies are no longer going to supply medicines for free. There was much reference made to big challenges in getting Governments to invest money. This stressed the importance and necessity of the work COUNTDOWN will undertake. Our consortium is unique in bringing together a vast variety of skill sets and expertise from biomedical, health economics, social science and health systems.
To quote Mike Osei-Atweneboana:
“The best that has gone before has included a lot of biomedical scientists and one social scientist thrown in. COUNTDOWN will come together to look at all the gaps that can be addressed and exploited through research uptake, tying all the loose ends and ensuring research is picked up straight away. It’s like having a production line and a ready to buy market, so you can produce and quickly export. While the research is going on, the research uptake system is prepared to absorb what is being carried out in implementation.
We need to hurry as African scientists to make sure that we put in all our maximum, to hasten and accelerate, so when the drug companies say that they are no longer providing the drugs, and Governments say they don’t have the money, we have been able to accelerate and kill these Neglected Tropical Diseases. COUNTDOWN is excellently positioned and we as African scientists, implementation researchers, and programme managers should take this on with all our vigour, so that we can to bring these diseases to an end.”
For me one of the most crucial take home messages was the importance of working together with all stakeholders, at all levels of the health system and political environments. It has been an impressive start to the COUNTDOWN consortium, and an exciting start to my new position in support of the programme. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the last week of COUNTDOWN meetings, as I have already taken a great deal from all the discussions and presentations. I look forward working with you all over the next five years “Calling time on Neglected Tropical Diseases.”