Sightsavers is involved in participatory research to help deal with neglected tropical diseases. The research project called COUNTDOWN was conducted in four African countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria. On the Nigerian program, Sightsavers is collaborating the Federal Ministry of Health and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The goal is to find cost-effective ways to scale up the most sustainable solutions for controlling and eliminating by 2020 the 7 most neglected yet common tropical diseases.
A situation analysis recently conducted in Nigeria revealed the need to better engage with communities where making and sustaining gains in controlling neglected tropical diseases through mass administration of medicines is the goal. Sightsavers helped by gathering practical knowledge and experiences from program managers, communities and implementers to be used to find solutions, implement recommended changes and evaluate the outcomes. For a year, research teams mapped important community landmarks. They also gathered information from the point of view of men, women and community leaders of all ages.
Research teams did trials using posters, handouts, flipcharts and other materials to make community members aware of the NTD programs. Sightsavers ran feedback sessions assessing the effectiveness of those materials as well as mock training cascades on mass medicine administration. Working with program implementers, Sightsavers used the findings to design and implement solutions for use in the NTD programs in Nigeria. The defining principle of this research cycle is participation. Sightsavers ensured researchers from several disciplines, stakeholders, women, children, community-directed distributors and other marginalized groups were included.
Using participatory research methods where the people affected got input on decisions impacting them helps identify and eliminate program bottlenecks. This leads to people taking greater ownership of the decisions throughout the entire program. Involving local people in gathering and analyzing the information and making changes based on experience and practical knowledge is called a participatory action research cycle. Using this approach in Nigeria contributed to conceptualising and developing clear community engagement plans designed to advance the planning of NTD programs. It will also help strengthen the processes and skills planners and implementers use.
Participatory action research helps address the power imbalances in the planning process between implementers and donors. The tacit knowledge and understanding implementers gain through PAR also allows for modifications to program delivery to embed sustainable change. This leads to advanced collaboration and partnerships among different sectors, eliminates obstacles and makes reaching global Sustainable Development Goals easier.