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Talking Leprosy: Alex Jaucot

May 29, 2018

This month, we talk to the CEO of the Damien Foundation and ILEP country coordination champion, Alex Jaucot, to find out why he is passionate about working together and his thoughts on the future of ILEP.

Alex Jaucot knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities of country coordination in delivering health care programmes to hard to reach communities. Prior to becoming head of the Damien Foundation in 2015, he spent 20 years with the organisation working as a project manager in Asia (Vietnam, Laos and China) and had 4 years’ previous experience as a technician working in the DR Congo with the Brussels-based foundation.

The Damien Foundation is dynamic and evolving: under Alex’s direction, staff have spent 18 months developing a new 10 year strategic plan to guide the organization until 2028. He sees parallels between this process and discussions about what opportunities lie ahead for ILEP: “I do not have a crystal ball, but I consider the set-up of the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy as a real opportunity for ILEP. This is a very interesting new mechanism that can have a significant impact in the fight against leprosy: it will give ways never before received for this disease.”

Achieving zero leprosy will require a strategic approach that recognizes the importance of global trends such as shifting power dynamics and investing in people, Alex believes. “There are other opportunities such as mobilizing the civil society, developing talents in developing countries by switching the poles, moving from a north-south approach that is still too often the rule towards a south-south approach, even south-north,” he says.

“To achieve this change, we must invest in a major asset, the human resources, and get universities and research centers in developing countries involved in the process. This goes hand in hand with a sound and innovative program aimed at developing new diagnostic tools, a shorter treatment, an effective vaccine.”

Overcoming the acute loss of medical expertise in the field of leprosy is a key challenge. Alex highlights the fact that “many experienced and motivated health care workers have already retired or will retire soon. The pace of departures is not offset by the arrival of trained personnel. How can we sustain the know-how acquired in the fight against leprosy, attract doctors, nurses or physiotherapists in the fight against a disease that receives less and less attention? It is not for nothing that leprosy is now part of the group of neglected tropical diseases. The fact that leprosy is virtually absent from the agenda of local medical authorities is another challenge.”

Given that there are many other competing medical priorities, even in countries where leprosy is endemic, ILEP members and other actors in the fight against leprosy must work together to ensure the “means necessary to overcome this disease are well mobilized”.

Working together is fundamental to Alex’s approach. He has firsthand experience from working as an ILEP coordinator in Vietnam of the challenges of in-country coordination between different NGOs and other stakeholders such as the WHO. “It was not an easy task just to exchange information (Internet didn’t exist yet at that time), to work together especially when the local authorities tried, especially at the beginning, to play the division card. Fortunately, most members quickly realized their interest in consulting each other, just as the authorities quickly saw the benefit they could gain: better coverage of leprosy services across the country, elimination duplications and gaps, continuous supply of drugs and equipment, etc. Four of the ILEP members have even rented a building together to strengthen their collaboration. Various synergies have been developed and implemented in perfect coordination with the national program. I am particularly pleased with what has been accomplished. Good coordination certainly leads to greater efficiency just as it allows significant leverages.”

Yet it doesn’t always run so smoothly. Alex says: “Today, my job makes me travel to countries where ILEP members are present and unfortunately, I do not always find a frank agreement to allow good coordination… I believe first and foremost that coordination is based on a complete and transparent communication of what everyone does or wants to do, and then relies on what members want to do together to best meet the needs of the program.”

The way forward, he believes, is prioritizing common interest over individual interest, and ensuring that ILEP members’ head offices provide the necessary support for coordination. In his new role as the ILEP Members’ Assembly country coordinator champion, Alex aims to strengthen coordination between ILEP members and with the local partners. “I hope that a new mechanism will be put in place quickly within ILEP to strengthen coordination and to serve as an example of coordination for other NTDs.”

Recognizing that sometimes staff within ILEP member organisations feel frustrated with the process or question the value and effectiveness of country coordination, Alex’s message is don’t get discouraged but rather “examine the causes of failures as sources of lessons to learn” and persevere.

“I wish every success to everyone involved in a coordination. Coordination was one of the pillars of ILEP when it was created. It is still today and it will be even more tomorrow with the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy.”