Reviewing our course on modern tools for NTD control programmes

Participants, staff and facilitators of the one-week course

Following our week-long course on modern tools for NTD control programmes, Prof. Sammy Njenga, director of ESACIPAC, writes a guest post to review the event and offer his insight.

24 May 2013

Following our week-long course on modern tools for NTD control programmes, Prof. Sammy Njenga, director of ESACIPAC, writes a guest post to review the event and offer his insight. 

During the week of 12 – 17 May, 2013 the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) hosted a course on Modern Tools for NTD Control Programmes. The result of a collaboration between Eastern and Southern Centre of International Parasite Control (ESACIPAC) based at KEMRI, the Global Atlas of Helminth Infections (GAHI) at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Centre for NTDs (CNTD) at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and the London Centre for NTD Research (LCNTDR), the course aimed to provide participants with an overview of available mapping and epidemiological tools to assist effective NTD country control programmes.  The course was a great opportunity to fulfill our mission at ESACIPAC as a leading regional training centre for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and malaria.

Prof. Sammy Njenga giving opening remarks

Participants started arriving in Nairobi the weekend prior to the course, for many of them their first time in Kenya.  Including six Kenyans, we had a total of six African countries represented: Malawi, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana and Mozambique. About half of them were data managers, but titles ranged from physicians, biologists and statisticians to research officers and program coordinators. However, they all had at least two things in common: involvement and interest in their country’s NTD control programme, and awareness of the important role of mapping in efficient targeting.

After officially commencing the course with a welcome reception on Sunday, 12 May at the Silver Springs Hotel, their home for the next week, all 19 participants dove into the first day’s topic: Key concepts in NTD mapping. Prof. Simon Brooker gave the first lecture as an introduction to epidemiology, and I followed him with a session on NTD diagnostic tools. In the afternoon, they began the first of three geographic information system (GIS) practicals, during which they learned the basics of Quantum GIS, a free, open source GIS programme.

Participants of the week-long course

The week progressed smoothly, with tea breaks and lunches during which the participants and facilitators mingled and discussed their areas of work. This opportunity to network was also one of our main goals: to foster local, national and regional collaboration in NTD research and control. It was very encouraging and inspiring, for us, as organizers, to quickly see how naturally participants connected with each other given the nature of their work.

 On Tuesday, after learning about mapping and surveying principles from Jenny Smith, Dr. Jorge Cano Ortega led the participants around the KEMRI grounds armed with GPS devices to collect their own geographical data, which they then successfully mapped. This kind of practical training, preceded by a lecture that laid the theoretical foundations, is key. Learning how to use and collect data with GPS devices will be a valuable addition to their skill set. Many of them mentioned collecting field data and conducting surveys as part of their job, and it is in these activities where GPS technology , if used correctly, can really distinguish one project from another in terms of data quality.

Jenny Smith talks about survey principles

On Wednesday, Dr. Birgit Nikolay discussed data standards and quality and spoke to the participants about good data management. That afternoon the last GIS practical covered analysis of spatial data sets, and after a hard week’s work, participants headed off to a local Kenyan restaurant to unwind and get to know each other a bit better. I think it was a welcome break to the week and the arduous work they had been doing.

Dr. Birgit Nikolay speaks about survey designs

On Thursday, Prof. Brooker spoke about sources of GIS data and gave several examples of websites that offer free-to-use quality data, both geographical and epidemiological.  Dr. Cano Ortega followed it up with a practical application on processing different GIS data.

Prof. Simon Brooker on sources of GIS data

By Friday, participants got some time in the morning to finish the maps they had been constructing throughout the week, and those who finished early could work on mapping their own country’s data, which they had been asked to bring. After lunch and an insightful feedback discussion, Dr. Willis Akhwale of the Ministry of Health was kind enough to donate some of his time and speak to the participants as part of the closing ceremony.

 Dr. Akhwale gave excellent remarks on the need to devote as much attention and resources to NTDs as to other major public health problems facing our continents and indeed the world, such as HIV/AIDS and cancer. He said only we are responsible for making NTD’s neglected, and only we can change their name. A formal graduation ceremony followed with the handing out of certificates for participants, which I am sure will be an asset to their future professional and academic careers.

I am very proud to have been part of this course and I truly believe that these seven African nations will contribute from their representatives’ newly acquired knowledge.  Even if it proved difficult and was hard work, and even if it will take plenty of practice to master GIS programmes and produce useful maps, it is capacity building courses like this one that spread the knowledge and skills needed to effectively target NTDs.

I wish to thank all the KEMRI staff who made this course a success, from Emily, our course coordinator, to Michael Matheri, our master printer and flight negotiator, to the caterers who ensured our participants and facilitators were well fed to work hard. I thank the partners involved and the facilitators for their initiative and for bringing it to fruition. I look forward to our next course.

Prof. Sammy Njenga

Director, ESACIPAC

 For more details on the course and to access course materials, please visit our course page

Read our course completion report