Update on GPZL Working Groups meeting in Basel, August 2018

The two Working Groups of the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL) met in Basel, Switzerland from 23-25 August 2018. This is a brief summary of the meetings from ILEP CEO Geoff Warne. Fuller reports will be available later.

The Research Agenda Working Group is chaired by Dr. Fareed Mirza of the Novartis Foundation. Leading scientists serve as facilitators of seven sub-groups that focus on specific areas of research related to zero leprosy: diagnostic tests, vaccines, epidemiological modelling, interventions including PEP, disability, stigma, and operational research. An eighth sub-group focused on digital technologies will be formed shortly. The meeting reviewed the current state of knowledge in these areas, including gaps in knowledge and the need for research to close these gaps.

An overall organizing framework emerged around five themes for zero leprosy:

  • Identifying persons at increased risk of leprosy
  • Preventing leprosy in persons at increased risk
  • Sustaining the early detection and treatment of persons with M. leprae infection
  • Preventing leprosy-related disability after MDT treatment
  • Reducing or preventing stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy

The sub-groups will now meet by teleconference to firm up on key research questions that are directly relevant in achieving zero leprosy. They will also suggest the design of proposed studies and identity opportunities for leprosy-related research with other ongoing NTD research. These reports will be synthesized into a comprehensive research agenda by mid-December.

Sub-group membership is open to anyone interested. Although there is already ILEP member participation on the various groups, I encourage ILEP members to consider who else could get involved and add value. ILEP has a vast knowledge-base and it is important that this knowledge informs these sub-groups. It would also be very beneficial for the sub-groups to have more people from national leprosy programs and more persons with personal experience of leprosy. You might be in a position to reach out to people who could contribute. Anyone interested to be in a sub-group should register on-line at www.zeroleprosy.org by 7 September.

The Operational Excellence Working Group is chaired by Bart vander Plaetse of FAIRMED, and coordinated by Christine Fenenga. The objective of this group is to foster the promotion, development, use, scale-up, monitoring and evaluation of best practices and promising innovations in national leprosy control programs to move them forward along a continuum to zero leprosy. The meeting found it very useful to orient its thinking around an organizing framework with the same five themes that the Research Agenda Working Group used.

The initial task of the Working Group is to develop in 2019 a Zero Leprosy Toolbox. The shape of this will emerge through discussion with National Programme Managers and WHO but it is expected to include capacity assessment tools, a template to help plan out country strategiesfor getting to zero leprosy, and a menu of best practices in various technical areas to support countries in thinking through options for zero leprosy, whatever their current stage of endemicity. The toolbox will be guided by the recently-issued WHO guidelines. There is particular emphasis on capacity limitations that are obstacles to implementation: leadership, HR, monitoring and evaluation,collaboration and partnerships, political willingness, policy frameworks, finance, gender awareness, stigma awareness, etc.

The Operational Excellence Working Group will now establish its membership. It will include National Program Managers, technical experts with multi country scope (as advisors) and persons affected by leprosy.  A meeting in early October will be asked to validate and approve the Working Group’s agenda and design, and to determine what additional expertise is needed to inform the development of the assessment tool, strategy template and menu of best practices.  This will be followed by an open call for persons to be involved in the Working Group. We will let ILEP members know when this call is open. It will be important for the success of this Working Group to have access to the depth of knowledge of ILEP members in the issues around effective implementation.

For further information or dialogue on the Operational Excellence Working Group, contact Christine Fenenga at cfenenga@zeroleprosy.org.