4 November 2020 · Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy

A Prioritized Zero Leprosy Research Agenda

The Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy (GPZL) presented the prioritised Zero Leprosy Research Agenda at the WHO Global Consultation on Global Leprosy Strategy 2021 – 2030 last week. In 2018, the Research Agenda working group’s eight different sub-groups conducted a series of discussions on research gaps. The working group included 140 participants from 20 countries. The findings from these sub-group discussions were published in Leprosy Review and included research gaps in epidemiologic modeling, digital health, operational research, diagnostics, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and transmission, vaccines, disability, and stigma. This year, Nienke Veldhuijzen, Technical Officer at Leprosy Research Initiative (LRI), led the prioritisation of the Zero Leprosy Research Agenda with the support of a few GPZL Leadership Team members. 

How was the Research Agenda prioritised and validated?

The prioritisation was set in the context of the WHO NTD Roadmap 2021 – 2030 and the GPZL Action Framework. The geographical focus of the topics should be both globally and locally relevant. A metric-based approach was used to score research topics against two sets of criteria. The first set of criteria addressed the question, “Should we do it?” This question solicited how topics responded to the NTD Roadmap and the GPZL Action Framework. The second set of criteria addressed the question, “Can we do it and what will it take?” This solicited the feasibility, cost, and time required to complete the research.Twenty-six experts scored the research topics against these criteria by completing an online questionnaire. Research Prioritisation Scores (RPS) were calculated and the topics were ranked accordingly. To check for validity, the ranking results were compared with LRI’s 2019 stakeholder consultation. LRI used the Delphi method to identify the 10 most important research topics. Although the LRI and GPZL prioritisation approaches are different, the outcomes are nearly identical. 

What are the Research Agenda prioritisation results?

The first 10 prioritised research topics are as follows.

  1. Determining cost-efficient active case finding strategies under different epidemiological settings and local contexts
  2. Development of methods for eLearning and hands-on training for health workers and community health volunteers
  3. Determine the geospatial distribution of leprosy in countries and estimate the number of hidden cases
  4. Development of mapping tools for leprosy surveillance and response monitoring
  5. Development and (cost) effectiveness testing of improved post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) interventions
  6. Defining data needs and data collection tools for programme monitoring and epidemiological monitoring
  7. Further development and validation of lab or field-based (Point-of-care (POC)) assays for leprosy diagnosis
  8. Assessing the impact of case finding/contact tracing strategies on the prevalence of leprosy-related disabilities among new cases
  9. Optimize the use of available treatment for reactions and nerve function impairment and identification of new treatment options
  10. Development and validation of diagnostic tools for the detection and monitoring of nerve function impairment and reactions

What are the next steps?

GPZL is initiating landscaping and gap analysis. Through a comprehensive review of current research, GPZL partners will identify which of the priorities are currently unaddressed or insufficiently addressed. Following this process, GPZL will coordinate the implementation of the Research Agenda.