The 35th Session of the NGDO Coordination Group for Onchocerciasis Control was convened at the APOC Headquarters in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 8-9 March 2012, with 36 members, associate members, the World Bank, observers and APOC/WHO secretariat in attendance. In his opening remarks, Dr. Paul Lusamba, APOC Director, underscored the vital role that NGDOs have played over the years as major partners in the fight against onchocerciasis now moving from control to elimination, and reminded the participants to be vigilant on the appropriate use of increasing funding in this area. Brief summaries of agenda items of interest and relevance to UFAR are provided below.
Cross border collaboration. With the new goal and commitment for the elimination of onchocerciasis by 2025, the issue of repopulation or reintroduction of the parasite across neighboring endemic countries, especially where there is a major difference in the progress made toward reaching the goal, should and will be a major concern. Potential areas include the borders between DRC and Uganda, DRC and South Sudan and DRC and Angola. UFAR will face this problem in the Ituri north project which borders Uganda. Factors for consideration in addressing the issue include 1) genuine interest and strong political will for resolution by leaders of both countries and plans for joint meetings sponsored and facilitated by APOC, 2) accessibility and security issues, 3) level of development of the healthcare systems, 4) NGDO involvement and 5) annual therapeutic coverage.
In-country partnerships. Several members of the NGDO Coalition Group for Onchocerciasis Control have been seriously affected by the on-going global financial crisis by having to suspend or withdraw support to their projects. Fortunately, several of the less affected NGDO members have stepped forward and designed a strategy by which two or more NGDOs establish a partnership agreement to jointly assist those projects currently without NGDO support. I had an opportunity at this meeting to present the initial results of the Sightsavers-UFAR collaboration agreement signed in August 2011. The presentation was very well received.
A New Country Director for Onchocerciasis Program in DRC. The appointment of Dr. Naomi Awaca as the new director of the National Program for Onchocerciasis Control in DRC was confirmed at this meeting. Dr. Awaca, a specialist in Mectizan-related severe adverse effects (SAE), has been the interim project coordinator for CDTI Lubutu following the dismissal of the original coordinator. She has worked closely with UFAR as needed since the beginning of our program in the Kasongo region. Invited to the APOC Headquarters for orientation, Dr. Awaca was attending a major APOC-sponsored meeting on onchocerciasis elimination held concurrently with our NGDO meeting but at a separate location. So we did not have a chance to meet while in Ouagadougou, though have been in contact through exchanges of e-mail messages. The appointment of her replacement for the Lubutu project is among the issues I?ll be discussing with her next week. Dr. Awaca is adopting an enormous and challenging responsibility for which she is very capable of handling with our full support.
Operational Research. Virtually all the guidelines formulated by APOC over the years are the results of solid data based on carefully planned operational research carried out by various collaborators and partners. UFAR has been asked to carry out a small initial study to determine the impact or outcome of providing cell phones and bicycles to a limited number of community workers in a region associated with high rates of SAEs. Three hundred bicycles and cell phones for the study are in storage here in Kinshasa awaiting shipment to Kasongo. The drafting of the study guidelines is in progress. If the results are promising, the study will be expanded in size and locations. This initial study is made possible through a grant made to APOC by a private donor. The situation provides an example on how APOC collaborates with their partners to advance science and achieve useful goals.
Election. I was honored by being selected from a group of 4 nominees to be the next vice-chair of the NGDO Coalition Group for Onchocerciasis Control, starting in September 2012, with Dr. Frank Richards of The Carter Center as the chair and Mrs. Franca Olamiju who will be the immediate past-chair when her term ends in September. I am honored and humbled to be asked to serve in this capacity.
Future meeting. The 40th Session of the NGDO Coordination Group for Onchocerciasis Control and the 3rd NTD NGDO Network meeting will be held jointly on 5-8 September 2012 in Sydney, Australia, and hosted by the Fred Hollows foundation.