Neglected tropical diseases

Sleeping sickness: WHO scales-up data management training amid record low cases

10 August 2016 | Geneva −− The World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on the training and transfer of technical capacity for health officers in charge of surveillance in countries where human African trypanosomiasis (HAT, also known as sleeping sickness) is endemic as the Organization drives global efforts to eliminate the disease.

© Massimo Paone FAO

The training in data analysis and management aims to strengthen and sustain local capacity particularly for geospatial data – starting with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We are targeting 25 countries which have reported at least one case of sleeping sickness in the past 10 years” said Dr José Ramón Franco Minguell, WHO Medical Officer for HAT. “While our aim is to transfer this capacity to as many countries as possible, we want to particularly strengthen capacity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where 87% of cases of the gambiense form of the disease were reported in 2014.”

Data managers are primarily involved as they work on mapping for the HAT Atlas, an initiative launched by WHO in 2008 in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as part of the Programme Against African Trypanosomiasis (PAAT).

The HAT Atlas is built from a database which captures comprehensive data on the occurrence and geographical distribution of the disease as provided to WHO by Sleeping Sickness National Control Programmes (SSNCPs), nongovernmental organizations and research institutes.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo alone reported 3206 cases in 2014, of the global total of 3679 gambiense cases1, the lowest number recorded in more than 60 years.

The distribution of sleeping sickness is highly focal and unique, and the Atlas provides an important tool to assess epidemiological trends, make operational decisions, and monitor and evaluate the impact of control activities. It also serves as a safe repository of relevant information.

To maximize the impact and to ensure sustainability of the HAT Atlas initiative, capacity strengthening is crucial to allow its regular and optimal use.” said Dr Gerardo Priotto, Medical Officer for HAT.

WHO and FAO have organized and jointly facilitated two rounds of training for the SSNCP of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An application based on a Freeware Open-Source Software, namely QGis, has been implemented, specifically designed by WHO and FAO for easier use of the HAT Atlas by SSNCP staff members in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The first training (December 2014, FAO subregional Office for Eastern Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) targeted data managers at the central level of the SSNCP (Chansy Shampa, and Junior Lebuki ) who were already familiar with databases and GIS software. Data managers were trained on the importance of collecting quality data, interpreting different epidemiological indicators and using the HAT Atlas to display these indicators and produce maps to facilitate decision-making.

The second training (September 2015, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo) targeted those staff fighting the disease at sub-national level in the affected provinces. Together with additional staff at central level, a total of 21 people were trained. 12 computers equipped with QGis and the HAT Atlas were delivered to coordinators. The two previously trained data managers facilitated this second training alongside WHO and FAO.

Similar training courses for West, Central and East African countries affected by HAT are planned in the coming months.

1The number of cases of both forms of the disease in 2014: gambiense (3679) and rhodesiense (117), Total: 3796.

Ashok Moloo

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