People, not statistics: Two Years Since Ebola, Good News From Guinea on NTDs

Health volunteer Toumany Conde demonstrates how he would measure a child in order to determine the correct medicine dose during a treatment campaign for neglected tropical diseases. Photo Credit: RTI International/Patrick Adams

In December 2013, an outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea and spread across multiple countries over the next two years, causing more than 11,000 deaths and overwhelming the fragile health systems of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Two years ago, at the end of the outbreak, our team visited Yereweliah, a small village in Guinea, to see how efforts to fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) were faring in Ebola’s aftermath. You might have seen the resulting story on ONE.org. At the time, health officials believed that the mass distribution of NTD treatments could help restore trust in Guinea’s health system and local leaders were stepping up to mobilize their communities.

In the two years since, USAID’s ENVISION project has supported the delivery of almost 30 million NTD treatments to more than 5.5 million people in Guinea — reaching people in every NTD-endemic health district. And there’s more good news. Three districts can already stop mass treatment for trachoma, an NTD that can cause permanent blindness, after impact surveys showed promising results. Given this impressive reach and determination, and despite setbacks from Ebola, Guinea has an ambitious goal to eliminate three NTDs — lymphatic filariasis (LF), onchocerciasis, and trachoma — in the near future.

As a reminder of the people behind these accomplishments, we are sharing more from the inspiring people we spoke to who supported NTD efforts during that critical time.

Mme. Camara is in charge of this health center in Faranah, Guinea. Photo Credit: RTI International/Patrick Adams

Madame Camara leads the health center responsible for Yereweliah and supports mass treatment campaigns for NTDs.

The people who suffer from trachoma and lymphatic filariasis, they can’t live their life.
Now people know what the NTD treatments are because have we done many things to sensitize people — radio shows, town criers, community leaders, a lot of things. Then together, we go from door to door, door to another door. There is no place we don’t reach. Since the first time we did the distribution, it has gotten much easier. More people are open to taking the medicine, which is proof that our approach has worked.
Community leaders in Yereweliah, including Imam Jawaya Fode Oumar, Imam Karifa Camara, and Sacko Sankhon. Photo Credit: RTI International/Patrick Adams

Imam Jawaya Fode Oumar, Imam Karifa Camara, and Sacko Sankhon are among the religious and community leaders in Yereweliah who have supported the NTD program. When we asked if it was important for the people of Yereweliah to be free from NTDs, all nodded emphatically.

Oumar: Yes, you have to be healthy to do all kinds of work. You can’t be blind and do work.
Sankhon: We inform people about the dangers of not taking the pills. If you don’t do it and one member of the community gets sick, it can put everyone at risk. It is also very important for us ourselves to take the medications to show them the value of the medication.
Camara: We saw the impact of the first rounds of treatment on women and children. We became used to seeing people go blind from trachoma, but now that’s not the case. That’s why we encourage people to participate.
Toumany Conde, a health volunteer in Yereweliah, Guinea. Photo Credit: Patrick Adams/RTI International

Toumany Conde has been a volunteer health agent in Yereweliah since 2005. He supports a variety of community health efforts and also trains others.

My work was reinforced by the recent drug distribution. In trainings, I learned new skills like how to have a quality conversation with someone and how to properly discuss with them if they don’t want to take the medicine. Also, in former days, we were not as well known in the community. Now, we seldom meet someone who doesn’t know us and who doesn’t want to use the medicine. And if someone doesn’t want to take the medication, we know how best to deal with it.
I’m not tired of this work because I can always learn more and do more trainings and learn how to do this work even better. Also, I am well-known here. There’s a strong link between me and the community. It’s now very rare to see new cases of LF and trachoma here.
Local midwife, Madame Camara. Photo Credit: RTI International/Patrick Adams

Madame Camara (yes, there are two!) works alongside Toumany as a community midwife. In addition to her work on NTDs, she also ensures pregnant women get to the health center for check ups and delivery.

When there is a distribution [of NTD medicines], we do it until it is finished. Then once it has happened, people see the advantage of taking the medicine — that people aren’t getting sick anymore.

From mapping the burden of disease, to distributing preventive treatments and training millions of NTD-fighters at all levels, American assistance has been critical to Guinea’s progress against NTDs.

ENVISION is an eight-year project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) aimed at providing assistance to national NTD control programs for the control and elimination of seven targeted NTDs: lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, and three soil-transmitted helminths (roundworm, hookworm, whipworm). ENVISION contributes to the global goal of reducing the burden of targeted NTDs so that they are no longer a public health problem. USAID’s ENVISION project is led globally by RTI International and managed in Guinea by Helen Keller International (HKI).

To learn more visit: http://www.ntdenvision.org

For more of the People, not statistics blog series, check out: