15 Jan 2020


Last month, Nairobi hosted the 1st International Conference on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Africa. This was the continent’s first global gathering of Africa focused NTD researchers, implementors, funders and civil society groups.

Although there are many conferences that focus on this group of diseases, they tend to be hosted in the developed world far removed from the very people and countries that are on the front lines fighting NTDs. This conference provided the opportunity for policy makers, implementers, researchers, funders and community groups who work on NTDs in Africa to come together and discuss, share best practices and then decide how best to tackle diseases such as trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, chagas disease and leprosy.

The conference theme was “Cross-border partnership towards achieving control and elimination of NTDs”. Many African countries are dealing with the same issues and come up against similar challenges – these diseases are not bound by borders and neither should we in addressing them. Therefore, if we are to truly achieve elimination, cross-country co-operation and collaboration is essential.

Dr Mwele MalecelaIn addition to this, the conference reflected the growing consensus that the NTD world needs to work extremely closely with social scientists to combat these diseases. This was reflected in the fact that the conference programme offered sessions on connecting basic research and clinical trials for drugs, vaccines and diagnostics to control efforts to strengthening government ownership, advocacy and ensuring strong community buy in for NTD control efforts.

CIFF’s own Lilies Njanga helped kick off the conference, and discussions that followed, by participating in the opening panel that focused on how to move beyond the norm and break transmission of Soil Transmitted Helminth (STH) and Schistosomiasis (SCH), emphasising the need for integrated and innovative approaches.

Many countries have started to transition away from a control strategy and are working towards elimination. Kenya and Ethiopia, two of CIFF’s focal countries, have already begun this transition, with Kenya launching a Breaking Transmission Strategy for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related NTDs (STH, SCH, Lymphatic Filariasis and Trachoma).  Ethiopia is seeking to break transmission of both STH and SCH in the Wolayita Zone (see protocol).

A key recurring theme of the conference was how best to combine WASH in NTD programmes. This is a space that we are already exploring with our Audacious Trachoma and Transmission break investments, but also an area where the evidence base – on how best to implement WASH in NTD programmes – needs to be strengthened. During the working group sessions and breaks, we had the opportunity to sound check our approach with our peers but also spend time with our grantees to see how they can incorporate the lessons we were learning together at the conference as a team.

The conference was a wonderful opportunity to see CIFF grantees, past and present, showcasing their work, as well as understanding how other organisations are approaching many of these issues, and how we can foster new working relationships and partnerships in the future.

The CIFF NTD team will look to work with the Kenya Ministry of Health and Kenya Medical Research Institute in 2020, and to play a bigger role in next year’s conference. So stay tuned and until then, kwaheri!

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Sahra works in CIFF’s EME team and is currently based out of the Kenya office.