News from TDR Director, John Reeder

TDR news item
30 November 2017

This has been an important month for TDR, bringing together several key committees and partners to review our practices and plans for the next biennium. This has included our WHO regional focal points, one of our scientific working groups, and the regional training centres. Each of these committee members provides valuable feedback and ideas, so we are very thankful for their role in helping TDR accomplish so much.

Jamie Guth and John Reeder
Jamie Guth and John Reeder
WHO/TDR/Iza Suder-Dayao

I have also been travelling to talk with stakeholders and was recently in Japan, to give a keynote speech at the combined meeting of the Japanese Society of Tropical Medicine, International Health and Travel Medicine. This country is represented on our Joint Coordinating Board, so I was happy to return the support by talking to the many scientists in that country who are making important contributions to global health.

Eliminating visceral leishmaniasis

I am very proud of the achievements of TDR , and the acknowledgement it is receiving, for the many years of commitment provided to eliminating visceral leishmaniasis (VL) on the Indian sub-continent. A PLOS NTD paper analysing the output of TDR’s research provides lessons learnt in how to make a major impact.

There are more disease elimination campaigns underway than ever before – for polio, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV – the list increases regularly. These require major political, scientific and community efforts. One of the challenges is to maintain these commitments over long time periods, and revise strategies and tools at the very end, when the per unit cost of prevention and treatment is high because there are fewer people at risk. This is as critical a period as the earlier ones.

For example, despite the success, VL stubbornly remains in some highly endemic areas, and new outbreaks have occurred in other areas that have not had transmission, so the TDR research network is continuing its work.

The PLOS NTD paper offers a compelling model for these campaigns, showing how a broad network like what was created that includes local, regional, national and international support and commitments can have a major impact.

Social Innovation in Health Initiative

The TDR-initiated Social Innovation in Health Initiative, SIHI, is expanding in both size and scope. The Malawi hub has selected “Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (Health Centre by phone)” from the “Call for Innovations in Maternal and Child Health". The programme has two components; a toll free hotline for Malawians to receive health advice, and a ‘tips and reminder’ service. The point of TDR’s involvement has always been to bring a research perspective to this approach, in order to better understand what works and what does not. I’d also like to extend a warm welcome to Dr Peter Drobac, who has been appointed as the new Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, one of the SIHI founding partners.

Two new reports on malaria

Two newly released reports outline both the state of malaria incidence, and a research agenda for elimination and eradication. This year’s annual World Malaria Report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented increasing numbers of countries moving toward elimination of the disease, while also noting the need for new approaches to re-ignite stalled progress in many other areas. The results of this report signal a clear need for greater investment in malaria control – particularly at the domestic level. Funding for the global malaria response has plateaued since 2010, reaching US$ 2.7 billion in 2016 (less than half of the 2020 funding target).

At the same time, a malaria eradication research agenda has been published in PLOS Medicine. The 7 papers are the output of a broad consultation that involved more than 180 scientists, malaria programme leaders and policy-makers, including experts trained by TDR. The first Malaria Eradication Research Agenda (malERA) initiative took place between 2008 and 2011. These papers provide an update to that one, and are named malERA Refresh.

We have long supported malaria research at TDR. We work closely with WHO and many other partners in a number of key areas to build research capacity and identify new approaches. We have training programmes for scientists in low- and middle-income countries that are providing skills in implementation research, clinical trial management and how to disseminate research findings into policy and practice changes. In this month’s articles, you’ll see a list of some activities.

New global commitment to end tuberculosis requires research support

We were happy to see the high level attention paid to tuberculosis at the first WHO Global Ministerial Conference on Ending Tuberculosis held in Moscow. The conference, opened by President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation together with Amina J Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary General, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, brought together delegates from 114 countries. They have agreed to support efforts to end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030.

We have been working with WHO and ministries of health to develop the capacity to identify at the national level the system bottlenecks that are preventing progress, and implement changes. Our operational research and training programme, known as SORT IT, which started for tuberculosis, is now in 87 countries and is now being used for other diseases. In this article, we list this and other research support we are providing for this deadly disease.

Implementation Research Toolkit one of top 10 community engagement resources

We were happy to see an article in the journal Health Policy and Planning naming TDR’s Implementation Research Toolkit as one of the top 10 community engagement resources. The identified resources were collected to help show implementation researchers how best to engage community stakeholders and improve the outcomes of their research.

Since this review, an updated version of the TDR Implementation Research Toolkit has been published, which provides new modules on understanding IR, integrating IR into the health system, and IR-related communications and advocacy. It is getting a lot of attention, and I encourage you to try it out.

New 3-D video profiles sleeping sickness research of TDR Fellow

Many of the TDR grantees go on to interesting projects and careers. That is certainly the case for former TDR clinical research and development fellow Wilfried Mutombo, who was the focus of a recent special type of documentary on sleeping sickness. It is part of the HuffPost’s Project Zero campaign, a year-long series on neglected tropical diseases and efforts to fight them.

The video is a new type of technology that allows viewers to become fully immersed in the scene. It is being shown with virtual reality headsets, but it can also be watched online with similar effects. Dr Mutombo takes people on a tour of his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, showing the efforts underway to reduce this dangerous and deadly disease.

Research costing publication now in Spanish

Responding to the many language needs of those we serve is always difficult. I’m happy to say that doing this for the popular ESSENCE good practice document, Five keys to improving research costing in low- and middle-income countries, is a good example of looking at the needs more carefully and customizing it to that region.

The document, originally published in English and then translated into French, includes a review of funding practices related to the definition and funding of direct and indirect costs. The case studies in the first version came from Africa, Europe and North America, but Latin American countries needed different case studies and a slightly different approach, so this version provides 10 new case studies and written specifically for their needs.

Our communications manager is leaving us

Jamie Guth, who has been at TDR for 12 years, is retiring from WHO. We are sad to see her go, but are also excited for her and her new work as a consultant in research uptake. She exemplifies the concept of lifelong learning, and we are proud and grateful for what she has accomplished while here.

TDR Global profile

Every month we profile at TDR Global member. This time, it’s Margaret Gyapong, someone we have come to know well over the years. She has served on many TDR committees and been a major contributor to the development of the implementation research toolkit. It’s always interesting for me to read the background of our members, and even if you know her, I think you will learn something new and interesting.


For more information, contact TDR Communications at tdr@who.int

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