From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
On January 30, 2021, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the first World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) day. The aim was to create global awareness for addressing NTDs.
It was a day to mark the anniversary of the landmark 2012 London declaration on NTDs, which unified partners across sectors, countries and disease communities to push for greater investment and action on NTDs.
Globally, there are over 20 NTDs ravaging poor communities across the world. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health identified 13 NTDs, notably, river blindness, elephantises, rabies, snakebike envenoming, leprosy, guinea worm, noma, buruli ulcer, helminthis (soil transmitted parasitic worn) and others.
They might have been forgotten by or given less attention by the government but they exist, and are actively attacking people some of whom are unaware of the diseases, symptoms and devastating health impact.
The myths and misconceptions regarding the efficacy of the diseases among poor and illiterate communities have further worsened the situation, resulting in increased spread of the diseases.
Federal Ministry of Health records indicated that out of 774 local government areas in Nigeria, over 500 are endemic for one or two of the NTDs, killing and inflicting pains on the people, knowingly or unknowingly.
Some of these diseases could be easily found and are closely associated with poverty, poor sanitation, lack of safe water resources, substandard housing conditions and deficiency in health care services.
NTDs in Nigeria
National Coordinator, NTDs Elimination Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, explained that NTD is a serious threat to huge number of Nigerians and the negative impact could be disastrous and catastrophic if not attended to, as quickly as possible.
He said the impact of NTDs ranges from end organ damages due to chronic infection, significant impact on maternal, newborn and child health, promotion of poverty, poor intellectual development, to low productivity which is a devastating obstacle to attainment of Universal Health Coverage (UHC):
“Our utmost desire is to control, eliminate or possibly eradicate NTDs which would result in significant drop in morbidity and mortality rate. We equally want to ensure a break in transmission of NTDs through mass drug administration and environmental control.
“Virtually all the states in Nigeria are endemic for one NTD or the other. It’s estimated that 122 million people in Nigeria (more than half of the population) are at risk of one or more NTD. Of the number, 20 per cent are of pre-school age children, 28 per cent are of school age children (5 to 14 years old) and 52 per cent are adult (15 years and above).
“No fewer than 119.8 million people are at risk of elephantises (lymphatic filariasis), 51.4 million for river blindness (onchocerciasis), 28.8 million school age children and 20.5 pre-school age children are at risk of soil transmitted parasitic worn (helminthis), 26.8 million for trachoma, 23.8 million school age children for snail fever (schistosomiasis).”
Response managers lament
Officials involved in the management and control of the NTDs have continued lament over the poor interest of the Federal Government and international community to the fight against NTDs.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, accused the global community of abandoning Nigeria and some other developing countries that still battle NTDs.
He said NTDs have been down played with the little or no attention being paid to the diseases which have impacted negatively to safety and healthy well-being of Nigerians.
He also alleged that because the diseases are not no longer available in developed countries, the international donor agencies care less in providing the needed support and assistance to African countries and developing countries of the world that still have the cases.
Programme Manager, National Onchocerciasis Elimination Programme (River blindness), Micheal Igbe, said the situation of the disease is alarming and requires urgent attention to prevent devastating record in no distant time.
Programme Manager, National Trachoma Elimination Programme, (snail fever) Dr. Nicholas Olobia, explained that trachoma is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the world, and the causative agent is a bacterium called chlamydia trachomatic.
He said the disease is highly prevalent in northern Nigeria because the region falls within the trachoma belt, and the causative agent is found in most vulnerable communities disproportionately affecting children and women, and associated with poverty and low standard of living characterized by overcrowding, poor environmental and personal hygiene.
Programme Manager, National Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantises) Elimination Programme, Emmanuel Davies, said the disease is still much around in today Nigeria even though many people may ignore it.
He explained that the diseases is transmitted by infected female mosquito (anopheles) during human blood meals, and the life span of adult parasite is between four to six years.
Fatai Oyediran, is the snakebite envenoming programme manager. He said that snakebite is a major medical problem in rural communities in Nigeria, particularly in communities in northeast and north central states.
He said estimated incidence of snakebite in Nigeria is extremely high, with carpet viper specie of the snake being responsible for 90 per cent of the bites and 60 per cent of deaths: “Between 2015 and 2020, 39,458 cases of snakebite were reported in Nigeria with 633 deaths, excluding 280 deaths recorded in 2020.
“Snakebite cases are highly prevalent in Gombe, Taraba and Bauchi states, while it has low prevalent in Katsina, Jigawa, Rivers and Osun states.”