Leading up to 2020, the different global programmes working against NTDs will need to comprise a wider range of interventions applied over a greater area, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Assuming that efforts to increase funding, capacity and implementation are successful, then the global burden disease of NTDs will decline and with this the scale of MDA. However, two areas will assume increasing importance: management of disability and eliminating the last bastions of NTD.
Management of disability
Millions of people live with chronic debilitating, disabling, and disfiguring conditions as a consequence of NTD infection[14, 15]. Once they become infected or envenomed, there is often little that can be done to reverse this debility. Global commitments have highlighted the importance of alleviating suffering and providing support for those infected with NTDs. However, there has been significantly less progress made establishing clinical and social programmes to provide this support. For example in 2008, despite an estimated 40 million individuals living with LF, only 29 of the 82 endemic countries covered by GPELF at the time reported that they had commenced morbidity management programmes.
Even if NTD elimination targets are achieved, millions of women, men and their carers will continue to require clinical and social support including snakebite victims suffering the chronic, typically irreversible, physically and psychologically disabling effects of envenoming. Developing and implementing effective and sustainable models of services to reduce the impacts of the physical and mental disabilities caused by NTDs is an urgent public health priority. There will also be important lessons and synergies from non-communicable diseases such as asthma (see CAHRD paper LH Cough). Considering ways to integrate services including morbidity management programmes into existing community-based approaches will be important when delivering any new services (from drugs, vector control, diagnostics or social support) within affected community. CNTD has recently piloted new innovative community-based tool using mobile phone technology for collecting and mapping cases of LF. Preliminary results are excellent and the work will be expanded across their 12 focus countries and include additional aspects of health information and service delivery.
Eliminating hard-to-reach foci
Progress towards the elimination of NTDs will be patchy. For instance, progress will be slower in areas affected by conflict or geographical features (e.g., mountainous regions, extensive swamps, dense forest) that hamper delivery of interventions[17, 18]. Persistence of disease in these regions will pose two important threats to efforts against NTDs.
First, residual foci can act as a source of parasites that can spill into areas from which the disease has been eliminated; this risk is especially serious for vector-borne diseases and zoonoses where vectors and reservoir hosts are mobile. Second, the persistence of diseases foci can contribute to institutional, funding and community fatigue, especially as elimination is expensive and/or and the disease burden is small relative to other health priorities – snakebite being a particularly pertinent example. Hence the challenge facing NTD endemic countries in the 2020s will shift from scaling up standard interventions to delivering a complex suite of interventions, which may include chemotherapy, environmental management, vector control in hard-to-reach places.
The delivery of these interventions will require participation and engagement by communities affected by these diseases, and continued donor and partnership support. Spatial modelling of bednets in DRC found significantly low intervention coverage in rural remote areas, with minimal access to main cities and transport networks. This study highlights the important gaps in coverage and the geographical factors driving them. Similar studies would assist efforts against other NTDs.
It is important that the difficulties of the ‘last mile’ are anticipated and solutions established before persistent foci lead to either re-emergence of disease or fatigue. There are three elements to tackling this problem: (i) rapid identification and monitoring of persistent or re-emerging foci, (ii) delivery of interventions to contain and ultimately eliminate the foci and (iii) maintaining the support of communities, governments and global partners. The requisite tools are already in use or will be available by 2020[9, 13]. Here we outline research concerned with delivering strategies to identify and eliminate foci in hard-to-reach settings.
Current research is producing a rich source of data and tools to map diseases, vectors, environmental and demographic factors[17, 18, 20]. These tools can provide the basis of early-warning systems to identify sites where disease may persist and hence guide monitoring activities. Such an early-warning system could be operated by an international programme[21, 22] working in partnership with national health systems, making best use of new remote sensing products and practices as they emerge, and in recognition that a focus threatens neighbouring regions and countries. Some risk factors will be spatially and/or temporally stable (e.g. impact of altitude on the bionomics of vectors and parasites), seasonal (e.g., rainfall, temperature) or unpredictable (fragility and conflict). Local communities could play an important role in early warning systems; they will be the first witnesses of resurgences. Research and development will be required to develop robust systems to integrate these data into an overall early warning and establish systems to provide national health systems with appropriate warnings, building on existing global early warning systems for health such as GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network) GLEWS (Global Early Warning System).
Guided by a global early warning system, national and local health systems and local communities will provide the basis for monitoring disease. Research will identify how RDTs and innovative monitoring systems (e.g., xenomonitoring vectors and reservoir hosts if appropriate) can be routinely used at sentinel sites, and how data from these can be rapidly disseminated to national and global centres. Information systems between sentinel sites and the early warning system will allow rapid updating of risk assessments.
Innovations will all need to be considered in terms of their introduction, acceptability and adherence by those affected communities. They will also need to be considered in terms of how they will be delivered within health systems. Strategies for partnership and engagement with affected communities will need to be developed and tailored to the contexts in which they are delivered.
Containing and eliminating foci
A flexible and integrated approach will be required to eliminate the last bastions of disease. For example, persistent human African trypanosomiasis foci in West Africa are associated with the difficulties of reaching people living in extensive mangrove swamps. Operational research conducted in these particular settings will be required to identify how communities might be reached.
It seems likely that some foci will persist or re-emerge as a direct result of local economic or socio-political factors. Well-resourced professional response teams could provide a means of containing outbreaks and then provide the basis of a team to re-establish local capacity.
The endgame is likely to be protracted and maintaining the support and engagement of international partners, governments and communities is crucial. The African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) as well as the GPELF use a community-directed strategy for the distribution for MDA, which is vital to the success of both programmes[25–27]. Understanding how to continue to empower and engage communities will be essential to ensure momentum at the community-level is maintained during the endgame. Research using both qualitative (interviews with key informants, focus group discussions with communities) and quantitative (Knowledge Attitudes and Practice surveys) methods with community members and key informants will help inform the best strategies to reach the elimination goals.