Operational research priorities to support the elimination of neglected tropical diseases
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) continue to disproportionately debilitate the health and well-being of the poor and marginalized in the South-East (SE) Asia Region. Eliminating NTDs on the verge of elimination, namely leprosy, lymphatic filariasis (LF), schistosomiasis, trachoma, visceral leishmaniasis (VL) and yaws has been a flagship priority of WHO Regional Office for SE Asia since 2014. This has significantly contributed to progressing towards the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of ending the epidemics of NTDs by 2030. However, there are remaining challenges and gaps that have stalled the control and elimination efforts. “Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals: a road map for neglected tropical diseases 2021–2030” underscores an urgent need for innovation, research and knowledge sharing to achieve the 2030 elimination and control targets. Timely and coordinated operational research in dengue, leprosy, LF, schistosomiasis and VL has a strong potential to fill the knowledge gaps and accelerate the control and elimination efforts. Consultation with the large group of disease experts convened between October 2021 and July 2022 highlighted various programmatic and knowledge gaps that are posing a challenge to the effective implementation of interventions and strategies. As many as 164 areas of operational research were identified (dengue – 38, leprosy – 20, LF – 30, schistosomiasis – 14, VL – 55 and overarching areas – 7) in the domains of diagnostics, treatment, vaccines, vector control, health systems and surveillance. The expert group consultation also yielded the top five areas of operational research that can guide the research agenda prioritization in WHO SE Asia Region. In this last mile of elimination, it is pertinent to fill the knowledge gaps and provide promising and rigorously researched solutions that will help to overcome the challenges that are stalling elimination and control efforts in the Region.