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Nigeria ‘most endemic’ country in the world for NTDs – Health Commissioner

by Christiana Gokyo, Jos

Nigeria is one of the most endemic countries in the world for NTDs, with an estimated 100 million people in the country at risk for at least one NTD, according to International Charity Sight Savers.

The Plateau State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Nimkong Ndam Lar, says the World Health Assembly at the second biennial, ‘Reaching the Last Mile’ (RLM) Forum, in Abu Dhabi, agreed to set aside 30th January of each year to commemorate the World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) day.

He said, this will help to raise awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) as a critical public health challenge and to sustain progress towards their elimination.

Briefing newsmen in his office in Jos, he said the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a document that aims to support countries, international organizations, and partners to work together to identify common grounds to maximize efforts to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). 

According to him, “One health approach is for action against neglected tropical diseases 2021-2030. This ensures cross-sectoral approaches and tackling associated mental health and other issues such as stigma and discrimination,” he said, while noting that, “The state NTD has a comprehensive master plan with a mission, vision and strategic goal.”

The Commissioner further explained that, the mission is to implement NTD policy and plan, in order to deliver effective, efficient, quality and affordable health services so as to strengthen the national health system and achieve improved health status of Plateau State citizens for accelerated state economic growth and sustainable development.

Dr. Lar stressed that, “The vision is to have a State free of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, while strategic goal is to eliminate NTDs, achieve national targets and significantly improve the life expectancy and quality of life of Plateau people.

“The 2023 World NTD day is a milestone event, with the theme, ‘Act Now, Act Together to end NTDs,’” adding that, they yearn to shine as spotlight to NTDs and the suffering they cause and to call for comprehensive and universal care for those affected by them. 

“It is our collective responsibility to confront equalities and put an end to these diseases that are entirely preventable,” he stated, while stressing that, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a diverse group of 20 conditions that are mainly prevalent in tropical areas, where they mostly affect impoverished communities and disproportionately affect women and children.

“These diseases cause devastating health, social and economic consequences to more than one billion people,” adding that, “The epidemiology of NTDs is complex and often related to environmental conditions; many of them are vector-borne, have animal reservoirs and are associated with complex life cycles. All these factors make their public health control challenging.

“These diseases include: Buruli-ulcer, dracunculiasis (Guinea-worm disease), Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis (river-blindness), rabies, scabies and other ectoparasitoses, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, snakebite envenoming, trachoma, among others,” he stressed.

The commissioner further explained that, Plateau State – with the support of the Carter Center – has made tremendous progress in curtailing the effects and transmission of some of these NTDs, especially with regards to Guinea-worm (GWD), Onchocerciasis, Lymphatic Filariasis, Trachoma, and leprosy, in 2013. 

He also noted that, Nigeria as a whole was certified Guinea-Worm-free by WHO. Transmission of Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) was interrupted in 2012 and treatment stopped in 2013; Trachomathreshold was reached in 2014 and mass drug administration (MDA) stopped, while in 2017, Onchocerciasis transmission was interrupted and treatment stopped in 2018, and this attracted an award to the state by the Federal Ministry of Health, in 2019.

Furthermore, he said, Plateau and Nasarawa are the only two States in Nigeria that have eliminated transmission of Onchocerciasis and Lymphatic Lilariasis (LF).

The State NTDs programme, with support of the Carter Center, has successfully carried out free surgeries for 57 hydrocele patients in 2022, also engaging in mainstreaming programme in Bassa Local Government Area, with the hope of expanding it this year.

He said, “There is Intensive Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) on hope groups, while border surveillance and treatment is currently ongoing across our border communities as regards to Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) and Onchocerciasis.

“The clearing of Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) backlog has been conducted through successful surgery and epilation to affected persons, while the State Ministry of Health is set to inaugurate the State Advisory Committee on NTDs (STACON) in February this year,” Dr Lar said, while explaining that, “This committee is to advocate for funding, research and resources to sustain the fight against NTDs in the State.

“In order to eliminate these diseases in the state, the State NTDs programme, with the maximum supports from the Carter Center-Nigeria, is now aligned strictly to the WHO’s road map for 2021-2030 to sustain the great achievements through adequate advocacy, coordination and partnerships, planning for results, resource mobilization and financial sustainability, scale-up access to intervention, including treatment and service delivery, drug supply, logistics and capacity building, NTD monitoring, evaluation and surveillance,” he stressed.

“Also, to sustain the already achievement made in the state, the people’s support in public enlightenment is very pertinent, including strong collaboration with all stakeholders,” Dr. Nimkong Lar stated.

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