The recent disclosure that over 100 million Nigerians are at risk of contracting Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is alarming. The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, revealed this at the first NTD Day in Abuja. The NTDs are generally caused by abject poverty and the lack of good healthcare facilities across the country.
NTDs, according to medical experts, are communicable diseases that are mainly common in tropical and sub-tropical regions. They are termed “neglected” because the people that are mostly affected by the diseases are most often the poorest populations. These are people that live in remote communities in the rural areas, densely peopled slums in cities and urban areas or in conflict zones. Such diseases, which experts insist persist under conditions of poverty, are concentrated in impoverished populations in the developing world.
Neglected tropical diseases affect more than one billion people, primarily poor populations living in tropical and subtropical climates. More than 70 per cent of countries and territories that report the presence of neglected tropical diseases are low-income or lower middle-income economies.
Infections are caused by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation. Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year, often resulting in life-long physical pain and social stigmatisation. Sometimes, the social stigmatisation can lead to impaired mental health, dampen the self-esteem and eventually reduce the economic prospects of such a person. It can also lead to depression or even suicide.
Populations living in poverty, without adequate sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors, domestic animals and livestock are the worst affected. And since those affected by the NTDs are poor and do not have people in government, they are hardly remembered by the authorities.Some of such diseases in Nigeria are guinea worm, sleeping sickness, leprosy, elephantiasis, river blindness, rabies and scabies, among others.
NTDs, experts claim, are relatively obscure, but they adversely impact the population greatly. They are prevalent among vulnerable and poverty-ravaged communities with little or no access to basic education and social amenities, like public health facilities, potable water and electricity. Such populations have limited or no knowledge about sanitation or good hygienic practices.
The NTDs can result in blindness, deafness, and various forms of physical disabilities or disfigurement. Child NTDs sufferers shy away from attending schools and grow up with no skills. They are hindered by basic occupations like farming and fishing or any avenue of earning a living. They are trapped in a cycle of diseases and poverty.
It is also believed that these diseases could be totally eradicated once the nation could curb endemic poverty afflicting the citizens.
The alarm raised by the minister on the disease should serve as a wake-up call on the nation’s health authorities to do something to prevent Nigerians from contracting such diseases. The government should come up with pragmatic measures to curb escalating poverty. Government at all levels must ensure that the welfare of all Nigerians is prioritised. They should embark on more programmes aimed at reducing poverty among Nigerians. There is need for enlightenment programmes on the NTDs and how to prevent them.
Interestingly, the Federal Government is working with its development partners to tackle the scourge of NTDs. It is commendable that the government is raising awareness on the NTDs. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that the enlightenment gets to the grassroots where the NTDs are more likely to occur. Contracting NTDs shouldn’t be a death sentence. The good news is that they can be prevented and even eradicated with basic hygiene practices that can be driven by non-specialists like community heads, schoolteachers and public health officials.
Good enough, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has mapped out strategies to prevent and possibly eradicate the NTDs. The government should key into these interventions.
Above all, let government improve the standard of living of all Nigerians, including those in the rural areas. Government should provide basic amenities like schools, healthcare facilities, potable water and good roads in the rural areas.