WHO Alerts on Threat of Tropical Epidemic in Nigeria, Says 1 Million Infected Yearly

1

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked the Nigerian government to take urgent and decisive measures to end the silent epidemic of Neglected Tropical Diseases currently ravaging the rural populace.

It said that more than one million neglected tropical diseases new cases are being detected yearly with about 50 million persons at risk of infection yearly.

While giving a Goodwill Message at the event to commemorate 2022 World NTD Day WHO Head of Mission and Representative, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, warned that Nigeria is presently occupying the second position in the ladder of high burdened countries which might degenerate further if nothing concrete is done to arrest the situation.

He said that currently the health challenge posed by the neglected tropical diseases in Nigeria far outweighed that of COVID19.

“More than one million neglected tropical diseases new cases are still being detected yearly, while around 50 million persons are at risk of infection yearly,” he said.

Mulombo, however, said that Nigeria remained important in the global NTD eradication road map and has made significant progress in treatment and control of NTD.

“I want to encourage individuals, communities, and local governments to encourage surveillance, testing and treatment for NTD and to learn more about these diseases, to end the silent epidemic it causes,” he said.

Speaking on this year’s theme, ‘Achieving health equity to end the neglect of poverty related diseases’, the WHO scribe said there is the need for increased collaboration by all stakeholders.

According to him, health inequities triggered by COVID-19 have undermined economic, societal, and developmental progress in Nigeria.

He said that focusing on NTDs will be a step forward in addressing diseases of poverty, adding that NTD programmes contribute to stronger health systems by enhancing capacity, bringing communities together and contributing to universal health coverage.

Mulombo stated that WHO is working with countries including partners and NGOs to address NTDs towards health systems strengthening and universal health coverage.

He urged countries to adopt some of the approaches used in responding to COVID-19 pandemic towards eradicating tropical diseases, especially the quick response with scientific innovations to check COVID-19 spread across the world.

According to him, WHO is also committed to facilitating the donation of all essential medicines for NTD as it has always done each year.

Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunmibe Mamora, said the world NTDs Day was an opportunity to re-energise the momentum to end the suffering from these 20 diseases that are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins.

He said the day will help the government to focus on millions of people who have limited or no access to prevention, treatment and care services.

The Minister of State described NTDs as a group of diseases associated with poverty and prevalent in areas that have poor sanitation, poor safe water supply and substandard housing conditions, in some areas which are totally lacking.

“The diseases are “neglected” because they are almost absent from the global health agenda, enjoy little funding, and are associated with stigma and social exclusion. They are diseases of neglected populations that perpetuate a cycle of poor educational outcomes and limited professional opportunities,” he said.

Mamora explained that most of these diseases are of public health importance in Nigeria and impact negatively on socio-economic development.

He listed examples of NTDs to include diseases such as Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, Schistosomiasis, Soil Transmitted Helminths, Buruli Ulcers, Leishmaniasis, Dengue, Guinea Worm Disease, Trachoma, Leprosy, Rabies, Noma, Yaws and Macetoma.

According to him, the WHO in June 2017 also included snakebites as one of the NTDs.

On the achievements made in tackling the diseases, Mamora said the ministry has been collaborating and working with all relevant stakeholders particularly Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDO) partners to tackle the menace of NTDs in Nigeria.

He noted that substantial progress has been made over the last decade as evidenced by “the country’s eradication of Guineaworm disease, elimination of transmission of Onchocerciasis in Plateau and Nasarawa States.”

Mamora assured that very soon some other states will be free of the diseases.

He said that through its intervention programme, the government has conducted epidemiological mapping on the preventable NTDs in all the 774 LGAs in the country.

In addition, the minister said that the federal government has conducted mass administration of medicine on school based/ community deworming programmes and also mass drugs administration on Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis in the country.

“Out of 122 endemic LGAs for Trachoma in the country, 96 LGAs have attained elimination threshold for the active stage of the disease while 61 LGAs have attained elimination threshold for the blinding stage of the disease. This has reduced the prevalence of Trachoma to about 6.9 million (79%) — Entomological survey 2017 conducted,” he said.