Toward More Effective Collaboration between Ministries and NGDOs

Tue, 2011-12-13 17:10 -- Eric Strunz

Eye Clinic in Vietnam to Treat Trichiasis. Photo credit: Mark TuschmanIn October, the Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Non-governmental Development Organization (NGDO) Network held their annual meeting in Nairobi Kenya. At that meeting, a variety of government ministry officials and representatives from NGDOs held a panel discussion on how these two groups can better collaborate on their efforts to control NTDs such as lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and trachoma. (Pictured Left: Eye clinic in Vietnam to treat trichiasis. Photo Credit: Mark Tuschman and the International Trachoma Initiative)

The Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Non-governmental Development Organization (NGDO) Network was created in 2009 to provide a global forum for NGDOs working to control the following NTDs: lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and trachoma. In this forum, network members discuss their challenges, share best practices and other key learnings, and work together to reduce duplicate efforts and complement existing efforts.

In October, network members held their second annual meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. At the meeting, the STH/Schistosomiasis NGDO Coordination Group sponsored a panel discussion, “Control of STH, Schistosomiasis and Other NTDs: Linking NGDO Activities to National NTD Action Plans.” The intent of the panel was to solicit ideas for ways that NGDOs can collaborate with Ministries of Health (MOHs) and Ministries of Education (MOEs). Panelists included both government and NGDO representatives who presented their perspectives on the issue.

From the government viewpoint, Dr. Dorcas Alusala, NTD Program Coordinator for Kenya’s Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation discussed ways to improve coordination between government agencies and NGDOs to increase government capacity and better utilize available medicines. She noted that the Kenyan MOH already has several committees that foster collaboration and coordination between the two groups to avoid duplicate efforts. In addition, the MOH has established a practice of signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NGDOs.

Dr. Alusala also stated that while the MOH has comprehensive policies that address treatment and prevention of multiple NTDs, NGDOs often work on only one NTD, and sometimes only on a single component of addressing the disease. For example, the national government may be promoting a comprehensive approach to control an NTD such as trachoma through the SAFE strategy: providing Surgery, Antibiotics, education on Face-washing, and Environmental improvements. However, NGOs that receive funding specifically to support only one of these elements, such as drug distribution, may not have the capacity to conduct the other elements of comprehensive control, such as providing surgery to trichiasis patients. These different approaches can make coordination between the two groups difficult. Dr. Alusala recommends that NGDOs take a more comprehensive approach and focus more on capacity building in a resource-constrained environment.

Dr. Charles Mwandawiro spoke next. Dr. Mwandawiro is the Assistant Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), one of the leading health research centers in Africa. He addressed how to promote resource mobilization and successful collaboration within governments and between governments and NGDOs. He said that these two areas faced several barriers, including a lack of policies, guidelines and MOUs; overlapping offices and mandates; and competition for leadership role between ministries or divisions. He suggested several ways to increase mobilization and collaboration. For example, ministries and NGDOs should develop joint proposals with clear plans; strengthen and make visible government ownership and commitment; include NTDs on national strategic plans and budgets; and plan for results, resource mobilization, and financial sustainability of national NTD programs.

Dr. Karen Levy, Senior Director for Innovations for Poverty Action examined how the school health platform can be expanded to promote prevention of schistosomiasis, STH and other NTDs. She outlined a path NGDOs could take to work more closely with governments. First, she encouraged NGDOs to support the government policies and work with them to implement them. Next, she recommended that NGDOs document the costs of using the school health platform to control NTDs to validate the value of the approach. Then, NGDOs could identify one or more districts in which to promote control of NTDs through school health. Communicating successes of these activities would then more likely lead to increased support from the government.

Finally, Dr. Narcis Kabatereine, National Coordinator of Schistosomiasis Control in Uganda for the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) focused on ways to increase the engagement of community- and school-based interventions to promote NTD prevention activities. His suggestions included expanding the role of teachers. For example, teachers could deliver educational messages to students on STH and schistosomiasis transmission, along with treatment and prevention activities they could take. Students would then take theses messages home. He also suggested creating drama groups to promote good hygiene in the community and reaching non-enrolled students by delivering treatments in churches, mosques, and other designated centers. He then proposed several ways that NGDOs could increase coordination between community- and school-based interventions. For example, NGDOs could help governments develop their hygiene education and regular school deworming policies, increase access to clean water in schools, and make available print materials that promote good hygiene for use in schools.

To learn more about the panel discussion, download a full summary of the panel discussion along with complete recommendations from its panelists.