By SOLA OGUNDIPE
THEy are 10 in number – all physiologically complex and pathologically dangerous vector-borne diseases. The mode of their action is diabolical. The menace of their effect on health and wellbeing is debasing.
These devastating disorders readily leave debilitation, despondency and death in their wake. They are infamous as the 10 most Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, known.
A few, such as Elephantiasis (Lymphatic filariasis), Hanson’s Disease (Leprosy) and River Blindness (Onchocerciasis), are quite familiar in Nigeria because they are more common in that country than anywhere else in Africa.
But the Blood Fluke (Schistosomiasis) is perhaps the best known NTD in the entire tropical world because it is more common in Nigeria than anywhere else on the planet.
Others are Guinea worm, trachoma, soil-transmitted helminths, Chagas disease, visceral leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.Disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, NTDs have wreaked much havoc over the decades.
Currently, more than one billion people around the world, including 800 million children, suffer the effects ranging from permanent disability, disfigurement, and blindness, to a lifetime of health complications. But the disorders have currently attained new recognition.
Now, instead of being neglected, these devastating diseases have climbed to the top of health agenda in affected countries worldwide even as Nigeria continues to make tremendous progress against NTD.
When a group of global partners came together to launch the London Declaration on NTDs in 2012, little did anyone expect the extent of success.
Nigeria set out its national plan, in collaboration and with support from global partners to make a statement. A notable feat is the successful elimination and eradication of the notorious NTD – Guineaworm (Dracunculiasis). In July 2013, the World Health Organisation officially certified the country as a Guineaworm-free nation.
As a follow up, the Federal government stepped up and 36 States of the Federation launched community education programmes and bolstered drug distribution, which has led to improvements in the control of other NTDs, including leprosy.
Reason for Hope: Today, there is reason for hope. Nigeria is standing up against this scourge of terrible diseases. In 2012, the Federal government launched a robust and fully integrated multi-year national plan to control and eliminate the NTDs.
Stakeholders in 36 states came together in Abuja to finalize the overall strategy and make specific plans for each state.
Nigeria took decisive action with a robust NTD plan built on private sector engagement and partnership with a broad group of national and global partners including the World Health Organisation, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, DFID, and the United States Agency for International Development, USAID. and secure necessary funding.
Taking out the neglect: “We’re taking the ‘neglect’ out of neglected tropical diseases, thanks to the commitment of partners from across the public and private sectors,” said Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Pharmaceutical companies are providing drugs free of charge, endemic countries are scaling up integrated screen-and-treat programs for multiple diseases and donors are delivering essential funding. If we stay focused, we can reach the London Declaration’s 2020 goals and help provide millions with access to health.”
A group of partners is committing more than US$120 million to address intestinal worms common in communities with limited access to clean water and sanitation, including US$50 million from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, CIFF. In addition, the World Bank Group, is committing US$120 million toward the goal of NTD control and elimination in low-income countries.
Progress: “The tremendous progress we have seen over the past two years is proof of the power of partnerships and the generosity of companies that made commitments under the London Declaration,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.
“Together with the governments of endemic countries, we are fast approaching the goal of controlling or eliminating many of these ancient causes of human misery. This is a pro-poor initiative that is improving the lives of more than a billion people.”
Former Director, UNICEF/UNDP/World Bank/WHO Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, TDR, Prof. Adetokunbo Lucas, who has dedicated much of his career to fighting NTDs, is optimistic that, at last, Nigeria is indeed on the march toward success. “In recent years, we have witnessed a global awakening about the burden of NTDs. There is significant demand for treatments More than 70 countries have designed large-scale, low-cost national treatment plans for multiple NTDs, leading to better control and elimination targets.”