News from TDR Director, John Reeder

TDR news item
2 March 2018

This month we profile our youngest TDR Global member ever, report on new gender equity and social innovation initiatives, highlight critical research on a new drug for onchocerciasis, and review work in fairness and effectiveness of our support.

Gender equity and social innovation

TDR Global, our network of global health scientists and experts, has launched a 3-month mobilization initiative on gender equity in health research. This follows on our commitment to enhance women’s position in health research and to address the impact of gender on infectious diseases of poverty through research. Professor Pascale Allotey, Director of the United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, kicked off this initiative with a talk on her experiences and thoughts on the topic, there were 2 online sessions, and there are ongoing discussions on LinkedIn where videos and articles can be shared. You can find out more on how to get involved in the story below.

It’s always exciting when establishing new ground in a field, and that’s exactly what the Social Innovation in Health Initiative at TDR has been working on. The regional hubs have been active building greater awareness of the value and potential of this approach, and they have published several talks under the TDR Global network brand and additional video case studies. We know that video is a powerful medium for conveying concepts, which this initiative has been using quite successfully. I encourage you to take a look at their latest offerings.

Long-term commitments pay off for 2 diseases: malaria and onchocerciasis

The results of a large TDR-managed phase 3 trial of moxidectin as a new potential treatment for river blindness (onchocerciasis) have confirmed that it is superior to ivermectin in reducing and maintaining low levels of parasites in the skin. This news has great meaning for us, since it’s not just about one study, but about a commitment to controlling this devastating disease that has continued over decades. TDR was involved in studying the first treatment, ivermectin, and in developing a community-directed delivery system for it. With this new research, people will have more options and the disease may reach elimination even faster.

A life-saving treatment for the management of severe malaria in young children has been added to the World Health Organization’s prequalification list. This completes the final stage of international oversight to the quality and safety for 100 mg rectal artesunate suppositories (RAS), and is being happily celebrated after years of work in this area.

The medication is manufactured by Cipla Ltd, a global pharmaceutical company based in India. It was initially developed by TDR, with further support by Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) and UNITAID. This has been an excellent example of partnerships and building excellent capacity in a low-income country to carry on the manufacturing of this needed treatment.

Advocating for a public health research agenda

At TDR, we are always looking at ways to make health research more relevant, accessible and usable. We have been particularly interested in how policy-makers use research (or not), and how to develop a more equitable approach to identifying priorities. In this vein, TDR coordinator Dermot Maher has co-authored an editorial in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization calling for WHO to use its normative role to support the development of an agenda for public health research. He and Nathan Ford from the HIV and Global Hepatitis Programme at WHO argue that a unique and efficient opportunity arises from the WHO guideline development process.

Research fairness

Fairness is at the heart of TDR. We were founded on this principle, with our work focused on increasing the resilience of those in low resource settings, providing them with the tools and knowledge to improve their health. So we are very pleased to be one of the early adopters of the Research Fairness Initiative (RFI), which is designed to promote and validate responsible and fair practices in international collaborative research and innovation for health.

It provides a framework that allows an organization to take a step back and challenge itself to think about how its processes and approaches affect its partners. How do we select research priorities so they are in line with the needs of the country? Does our application process favour male applicants over women? How should benefits be shared and are contributions properly acknowledged? It is vital that we all continually ask ourselves questions like these.

We have published a report assessing our fairness in research contracting and processes according to these new measures developed by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED). We’re looking forward to many more organizations taking part in this, and learning together how best to evaluate our work and find ways to improve.

TDR training support evaluation

Certainly, how we approach our training support is one measure of fairness. A recent article on our practices provides evidence on what has worked well. The PLOS NTD article highlights a high degree of satisfaction and greater inclusion of women, as well as maintenance in science careers in the home countries of grant recipients. We are proud of this, and are committed to ongoing evaluation and improvement.

First graduates of TDR’s postgraduate training programme in the WHO Americas Region

The first graduates of TDR’s postgraduate training programme received their degrees in Colombia this week. Thirteen students earned Masters of Epidemiology at the National School of Public Health Héctor Abad Gómez of the University of Antioquia.

Students carried out their research on how to implement interventions, programmes and policies for the control of infectious diseases associated with poverty that are endemic in their countries and places of origin. They came from Costa Rica (3), Guatemala (2), Dominican Republic (1), Ecuador (1) and Colombia (6).

We set up this programme in 2015 in 7 universities as part of a new approach to build broader institutional and individual capacity to conduct implementation research. It’s been exciting to be a part of a new groundswell of interest in this type of research, and we’re looking forward to many more graduates in the coming years.

TDR Global profile

This month’s TDR Global profile is unique in many ways. Seventeen-year-old Raffi Balian is certainly the youngest person to be profiled. Yet this didn’t stop him from taking a new online version of the SORT IT structured operational research and training programme during a summer school break. The result is pretty amazing – a peer reviewed article in a major journal and important analysis for the country of Armenia on the connection between tuberculosis and smoking.

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