Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has worked tirelessly to eradicate a neglected tropical disease (NTD) known as Guinea worm, told a Nov. 10 meeting of NTD experts that greater cooperation is needed to control and eliminate these diseases.
“Every step has to be collaborative. You have to have cooperation in order to be successful,” he said. “We must recognize the value of partnerships. And sometimes that’s not easy to do for a proud organization that wants to get credit for all the progress made.”
President Carter said eliminating NTDs requires multi-sector collaboration including governments at all levels, religious groups, civic organizations, international assistance agencies, donor corporations, and nongovernmental organizations.
The Carter Center, President Carter’s namesake organization, was among more than 150 organizations represented at this year’s meeting of the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD) where President Carter delivered the keynote address. The annual gathering, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID, brings together the research and NTD program implementation communities to tackle challenges and inform the research agenda for the coming year. The Task Force’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC) serves as the secretariat for COR-NTD.
The meeting has grown significantly in size and scope in recent years, reflecting increased attention on NTD control and elimination. This year’s meeting featured discussions about resistance to anti-parasitic drugs, which is a growing concern for NTD programs. Also discussed for the first time was Chagas disease, which threatens people in 21 Latin American countries and can be fatal in some cases. The addition of Chagas to the agenda is an effort to expand the scope of the meeting to cover a broader range of NTDs.
In an effort to showcase novel tools to aid in the fight against NTDs, this year’s meeting featured an Innovation Lab–an interactive session, moderated by Task Force for Global Health epidemiologist Katie Gass, PhD. The session included demonstrations of a mannequin on which field surgeons could practice eye surgery for advanced trachoma and a volume scanner repurposed from an Xbox Kinect to assess the progression of lymphedema resulting from lymphatic filariasis. Trichiasis surgery is a component of the SAFE strategy for trachoma elimination, while healthcare providers need better tools for monitoring lymphedema in order to guide treatment decisions.
The meeting concluded with the presentation of the 2016 Kyelem Prize to the late Vasanthapuram Kumaraswami who conducted pioneering work during the early efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. Dr. Kumaraswami, who served as a Task Force scientist, was integral to the founding of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis and is credited with making crucial research advancements on the disease’s pathology. In a tribute, NTD-SC Director Eric Ottesen, MD, reflected on the physician’s dedication to collaboration. “Dr. Kumaraswami’s genius was not just his achievements,” Dr. Ottesen said. “It was, rather, his ability to provide that spark, that environment, that opportunity for people to come together and work together to achieve great things, both at home in India and at home in the world.”