Dear END Fund Community,
It is hard to believe that in just the last four weeks, the world has moved from 160,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases to now over 1.5 million. Each one of us has been touched personally in some way by this global pandemic, and we are far from having clarity on what the long-term human and economic toll will be on our families, communities, and our broader world. In these recent weeks, the END Fund has been in frequent contact with so many of you – assessing the impact on partners and programs and determining how to do our part to respond to these unprecedented times. Your incredible support, flexibility and words of encouragement – and real hope for the future – have truly buoyed our spirits and informed our planning in such helpful ways.
On one hand, our world feels at a standstill. In line with interim guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), key parts of neglected tropical disease (NTD) programs – such as community and school mass drug administrations, trainings for health care workers, and community-based surveys – have all been paused. With a billion children out of school around the world, teachers aren’t able to deliver deworming medicines to students. Community health workers – who would normally be going door to door to deliver NTD medicines – are themselves sheltering at home. While we often experience NTD program delays due to political instability, strikes, severe weather events, and drug delivery delays, this certainly is the first time where programming has been delayed globally all at once. We are grateful to the WHO for issuing its guidance on NTD programming during this pandemic and are actively working with our partners to support implementing it in their own communities.
On the other hand, our world has never felt busier. We quickly realized that the END Fund has a unique role to play in leveraging our network and resources to help protect the vulnerable communities we serve during these extraordinary times. Given we are in the midst of a worldwide global handwashing campaign and handwashing is also so essential in preventing intestinal worm infections, this seemed like a natural place for us to contribute. In discussions with our local partners, we found gaps in handwashing programs and provided targeted funds to expand handwashing stations at local health clinics. We are actively analyzing opportunities to expand handwashing messages through our network of mobile phone providers, billboard operators, and celebrity champions. A fun highlight this week was being interviewed by Manchester United player and World Cup winner, Juan Mata, on Instagram Live to an audience of thousands about the importance of handwashing and the links between preventing COVID-19 and preventing NTDs.
In addition, many of the NTD staff we support globally have been asked to serve on their local COVID-19 response teams. We are so proud to be able to continue to support them while they do this, while having our eye on how to effectively start back up programs when appropriate and safe. We are also focusing on what we can do for our regular NTD programming, such as designing surveillance and disease mapping protocols, analyzing impact data to help us improve NTD programs, and assessing how we might need to “catch up” on NTD programs if they are delayed too long (such as additional rounds of treatment in the following year). This time of upheaval has turned out to be an incredible time for innovative thinking that I believe will positively impact and improve NTD programming for years to come.
I look forward to keeping our community updated as things evolve. I have no doubt that the strength and depth of our relationships now will be the driving force in determining how well we emerge from this pandemic. Please, as always, feel free to reach out with any questions or ideas.