In 2021, I began collaborating with Kenya’s Ministry of Health as part of the Adopt Research Project. Unlimited Health, a member of the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium (PPC), is leading the project. The PPC is a collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, governments, and researchers to develop and provide access to a new treatment for infected babies.
Why praziquantel shouldn’t be given to children under six years of age
Health programs in the affected countries have used praziquantel as a treatment for Schistosomiasis for many years. It is not recommended for children under six years of age due to the bitter taste of the medicine and its large size, which can cause choking.
The clinical trials of the new treatment option for children have been completed. They provide evidence that this is a safe and effective option.
Through ADOPT, funded by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (ECDCTP) and the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund, there is a great opportunity to work with the ministries of health in three endemic nations – Kenya Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire – to collect additional evidence to support the effective access and delivery of the new investigational drug to preschool-age kids, once it’s been registered.
To ensure access, we must take into consideration the perceptions and requirements of affected communities. We need a strategy that is effective in raising awareness and engaging the community to be able to do this.
Participants who attended the social mobilization workshop as part of the ADOPT project in Kenya. Credit: Unlimited Health
Mobilising support for a new treatment option for Schistosomiasis
I recently traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to support the Ministry of Health in its efforts to launch a social mobilization and advocacy strategy to roll out the new pediatric treatment options when approved. The activities began with a 2-day kick-off session, which was led by the Division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Ministry of Health. Other key partners, including research institutions such as the African Institute for Health and Development and Kenya Medical Research Institute, as well as county representatives, were also present.
Community perceptions of treatment for children
The workshop was a fascinating discussion about existing community perceptions and how social mobilization strategies for preschool-age children are currently working. It also explored what barriers can be encountered in the uptake of a potential new treatment.
The community trusts its health workers but still has reservations, especially with regard to side effects. This is based on the experiences of mass drug administration programs for Schistosomiasis among school-age kids. If successfully engaged, communities and religious leaders are powerful allies. However, other health campaigns have faced serious challenges because they failed to engage key community groups effectively.
Rumors, misinformation, and barriers to treatment
Rumors that injections or medicines are being used to sterilize kids secretly or that a certain disease is the result of witchcraft have caused great damage to other health campaigns. Misinformation can undermine the success of a program if it is spread.
It is, therefore, important to tread carefully and thoughtfully. We understand that treating infants, toddlers, and children is a sensitive issue, and the introduction of a new medicine can cause some concerns.
The PPC is also committed to reducing the impact of the disease, as we know that babies and toddlers will suffer if they are not treated. It’s important to reach a common understanding with the community and caregivers for children aged six and below about the importance of a potential new treatment.
The social mobilization of the population is an important element in implementing health programs.
I believe that social mobilization is an important part of the implementation, even though it may often be overlooked. The PPC vision of reducing the global burden of Schistosomiasis is difficult to achieve if the perceptions and concerns of communities are ignored.
So, what’s next? What’s next? Once registered, this information will be used for future delivery of and access to potential new treatment options in affected communities.