Calling time on Neglected Tropical Disease: COUNTDOWN launches in Cameroon

COUNTDOWN is an implementation research programme, funded by UK-AID, working in Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Liberia to tackle the five diseases that affected the poorest of people – Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The Ministry of Public Health is proud to host the launch of this programme in Cameroon in a meeting overseen by His Excellency the Minister, André Mama Fouda.  Illnesses such as onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis, schistosomiasis, and trachoma are caused by worms and bacteria, and are often spread by certain flies and fresh water snails. At the individual level, while these diseases can be treated with anthelminthics and antibiotics, at the community level they continue to cause ill-health and disability on a massive scale, as access to medications is still limited.   There is an international consensus that these diseases must be tackled as part of the push to universal access to health services and the Sustainable Development Goals. Pharmaceutical companies donate many of the medicines needed for free. Mass Drug Administration programmes have managed to connect with huge numbers of those in need, including in Cameroon.   To finish the job – and ‘call time’ on NTDs – a new research collaboration, COUNTDOWN, is being launched today to assist in the scale-up of NTD control.


Neglected Tropical Diseases in Cameroon
Over the years remarkable progress has been made in scaling-up NTD control interventions in Cameroon. The number of people treated has increased up to 10.6 million for lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, 2.8 million for schistosomiasis, and 8.3 million for soil-transmitted helminthiasis in 2014. However, we are still short from our targets, and there remain several challenges especially with the shift of our ambition from control to elimination of most of these illnesses. This requires a readjustment of our main strategies with more intensified and combined interventions needed.  Within the framework of the COUNTDOWN Project, activities in Cameroon will include:
 Extending praziquantel treatment for schistosomiasis to all populations in need, especially pre-school aged children and pregnant women, and establish biannual treatment in school aged children
 Extending treatment in onchocerciasis hypo-endemic areas and explore alternative treatment strategies where lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis are co-endemic with Loa loa
 Sharing learning on state-of-the-art diagnostics, epidemiology, and social sciences with other COUNTDOWN countries to build a strong consortium in West and Central Africa.
His Excellency the Minister of Public Health, André Mama Fouda, says:
“Control of NTDs is a long endeavour where we need the full engagement of many health stakeholders. I am reassured that we have strong commitment which can be further expanded in Cameroon. I am certain that this work will make significant steps towards local elimination of certain NTDs.”
The implementing partners for COUNTDOWN in Cameroon are the Neglected Tropical Disease Programme in the Ministry of Health and the University of Buea under the leadership of Professor Louis-Albert Tchuem Tchuenté and Professor Samuel Wandji.
A collaboration for change
COUNTDOWN Director, Professor Russell Stothard of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, stated:
“I would like to thank the UK Department for International Development for financing COUNTDOWN. Through a multi-disciplinary partnership which brings together researchers we hope to create new knowledge which will kick-start other countries’ responses to NTDs and provide practical health systems guidance on how to scale-up.”
Through implementation research COUNTDOWN will trial and evaluate new approaches to drug distribution, which target those who are currently neglected and excluded. It will examine how NTD programmes can be better integrated into a broader health system response. Research with community drug distributers will help to expand the scope of Mass Drug Administration to hard-to-reach communities.  It will gather policy relevant data on the costs of integrated programmes and their impact on household livelihoods and coping strategies.   Multi-sectoral collaboration with people working on agriculture, water, education, infrastructure, and sanitation will encourage buy-in from governments and civil society. To make the best policy choices decision makers need to be able to navigate and understand the existing evidence base on NTDs. This is why systematic reviews and innovative communication products are central to the COUNTDOWN approach.  This is an exciting time for action on NTDs, especially with the recent China-Africa Health Development Framework including cooperation for schistosomiasis elimination. We are pleased to be part of a much larger movement which is pressing for a new approach to the very old problem of NTDs.


COUNTDOWN partners include: the Cameroon Ministry of Public Health; the Centre for Schistosomiasis and Parasitology, The University of Yaoundé I, The University of Buea (Cameroon); the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine; Ghana Ministry of Health; FHI 360; Liberia Ministry of Health and Social Welfare; The Government of Nigeria, Sight Savers, and Pamoja Communications. Read More