Anthropological research for enhancement of NTD control

Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases remains challenging, despite significant steps taken by various health agencies. While currently “neglected”, applied social sciences may provide a valuable tool in the enhancement of NTD control programs. The speakers are experienced researchers with practical experience in public health research using social science methods.

The seminar was opened by Prof. John Kaldor, lead investigator for ACE-NTDs, who welcomed the participants, highlighted the importance of qualitative research in the field, and provided updates to  the ACE-NTDs community. Prof. Vicente Y. Belizario, Jr., convenor of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Study Group (NTDSG), University of the Philippines – Manila, provided opening remarks highlighting the need to consider social science perspectives in NTD control as “more than just an afterthought”, rather, as an integral part of program planning, monitoring, and evaluation to enhance flexibility and adaptability to social contexts, as well as sustainability.

The first speaker, A/Prof. David Maclaren, is a public health researcher with two decades of experience in addressing community health issues in remote areas of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. He uses participatory research methods with a range of partners, including laboratory scientists, health service professionals, and community leaders, to address health issues of importance to local communities. The talk focused on “The role of participatory research in control and prevention of NTDs”, providing practical examples and first-hand experience in conducting participatory research.

The second speaker, Prof. Soledad Dalisay, has collaborated with the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines Manila on the socio-cultural contexts of community participation in a schistosomiasis control strategy in Mindanao, the Philippines, and, an investigation, using the One Health lens, of the social dimensions of the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene in Schools (WinS) program in two regions of the country. In another field study in two municipalities in Mindanao, southern part of the Philippines, she looked into motivations for accessing or not accessing health services for paragonimiasis and capillariasis. The talk focused on “Contextualizing NTD research: the value of lived experiences in informing policy and service delivery”, highlighting the different research methods and anthropological “lenses” that may be employed to contextualize NTD research.

The speakers were then convened in a panel, moderated by Dr. Lorenzo Maria C. de Guzman  from the UP Manila NTDSG. The discussion revolved around understanding the local culture to design effective interventions that are also culturally appropriate and sensitive. Practical applications of social sciences were discussed, and out-of-the box thinking was highlighted in designing effective interventions. The importance of mixed methods research was suggested as a possible solution to the relative lack of funding for social science research. Partnerships and collaboration are essential to painting a complete picture of NTD control programs.