A team from the Institute of Health Research of the University of Health and Allied Sciences (IHR-UHAS) led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Lydia Azito held a project kick-off meeting with the Volta River Authority (VRA) on the implementation research to help improve schistosomiasis control in communities along the Volta Basin.
Schistosomiasis also known as bilharzia is a disease of poverty typically found in disadvantaged, and marginalized segments of populations and communities in developing countries with 97% of all infections and 85% of the global at-risk population concentrated in Africa.
Mr. Benjamin Arhin Sackey, Director of Environment and Sustainable Development, VRA said the main objective of the project is to find out what they were doing right or wrong in their fight against schistosomiasis as the recommended evidence-based strategies for controlling the infection continue to fail.
He said the results of the project will provide them with a landmark that will show the next steps to take in their fight against schistosomiasis.
Mr. Sackey explained that the collaboration was necessitated by the decision of the Authority to move away from direct involvement in the fight and outsource the project to other institutions that are capable and mandated to carry out this activity.
Dr. Alfred Kwesi Manyeh, Co-Principal Investigator and Coordinator for the project, said Ghana has an estimated country-wide prevalence of 23.3%, with focal, or localized, prevalence levels of more than 50% with over 400 communities in 18 districts from eight regions living in the Volta Basin affected by schistosomiasis while over 3.1 million are at risk of infection in the endemic areas alone in the Volta Basin.
He noted that after subsequent discussions with relevant stakeholders, it was clear that there are potential implementation gaps that are making it difficult or evidence-based interventions to achieve the maximum desired impact.
Dr Manyeh said there is the need to apply an implementation research approach and tools to identify the implementation gaps through engagement of key stakeholders and to develop, test and evaluate context-specific improvement interventions in selected schistosomiasis endemic communities along the Volta Basin.
In her remarks, the Vice Chancellor suggested a “bottom-up” approach to the study by focusing more on the lower level (community factors) than the higher-level factors (VRA, districts, national) since the issues at the higher level are easy to resolve with the availability of adequate funds but it is not easy to do that at the lower level because the challenges are more of a change in attitude and perception. She also advised the research team to put more effort and resources into the training of research assistants (data collectors) since they will be playing a very key role towards the success of the study.
On her part, the Director of IHR, Prof. Margaret Gyapong noted another pathway of infection that is not commonly noticed in the schistosomiasis discourse which is the process of water baptism carried out in freshwater bodies by religious groups. She asked that attention should also be paid to this discovery and included in the schistosomiasis discussion. She also stressed that with the IR approach for the implementation of the project, all stakeholders will be involved in the entire process of the study throughout its implementation to ensure that appropriate interventions agreed by all are implemented and the results at each phase of the study can be implemented by all stakeholders.
Other issues discussed at the meeting included roles and responsibilities of each partner in the execution of the project, communication plan, risk management, quality control, schedules and milestones.
The team also proposed a three-phased study to identify and address implementation bottlenecks of schistosomiasis control interventions along the Volta Basin in Ghana.
The research project is expected to have a lifespan of two years.