By Chioma Obinna
With Nigeria topping the list of Sub Sahara African countries with highest burden of parasitic infections, scientists have warned that unless there are concerted efforts to change unhealthy behavioural activities that cause the bulk of human parasitic diseases, the World Health Organisation’s , WHO, ‘Year 2020 Health for All’ will be an illusion.
The scientists maintained that in the face of lack of a funding and environment where the gap between the rich and the poor widens daily, the change has become absolutely necessary, where people savour undercooked meat and meat products, eat with dirty hands, eat unwashed fruits and vegetables with a strong but false assumption that ‘germs don’t kill black man’.
The Scientists at the 6th Annual Scientific Conference with the theme: “Ending the Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases Divide in Nigeria” also condemned unhealthy behaviours such as keeping dogs to eat faecal wastes and dumping of wastes indiscriminately, urinating and defecating at every available place and allowing domestic animals such as pigs, goats to roam freely in homes.
In her lecture entitled “From Paraistes to Parasites: A Parasitologists Expedition”, Director, Dr Olaoluwa Akinwale, submitted that such unhealthy activities fuel incidences of parasitic infections.
Akinwale who dismissed the notion that parasitic infections are more prevalent in tropics affirmed that incidence of many parasitic infections such as schistosomiasis (snail fever) and malaria has increased rather than decreased in recent years.
Noting that humans are hosts to nearly 300 species of parasitic worms and over 70 species of protozoa, she said infections caused by parasites constitute major human health problems throughout the world. “Parasitic infections such as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and roundworm (strongyloidiasis) have increased in importance as a result of the AIDs epidemic.”
Disclosing that 29 million Nigerians suffer from Schistosomiasis, 34 million from whipworm infection and 106 million at risk of elephantiasis, called for an option of behavioural change activities that would attract minimal financial demand from government.
She called for massive education on safe hygiene practices and assimilation of health – related information with a view to inculcating sustained healthy behaviour.
“Government should see the occurrence of parasitic diseases like schistosomiasis and other parasitic infections in the present century as a social defect and formulate appropriate policies and political will to address them.
To achieve a holistic control of these parasites, the head, Molecular Parasitology Research Laboratory Public Health Division, NIMR, urged government to develop a broad based strategy that combines good planning, policy consistency, with a progressive improvement guideline supported by strong structure for its implementation.
Earlier in his address, the Director General of NIMR, Prof Innocent Ujah said the theme of the lecture was informed by the growing need to close the gap between Communicable and Non Communicable Diseases, NCDs, as well as recommend policies that can be developed in such a way that the government would respond appropriately to both diseases to the benefit of Nigerians.
Stating that NIMR was limited in funding and human resources, he said by harnessing and synergising its activities and programmes they would spend less and get more in return.
“We are also trying to meet up with the new Strategic Development Goals, SDGs, approved by the United Nations. We believe that there is need to look at vaccine preventable diseases and other non communicable diseases,” He said.
He also said that in Nigeria today, there is significant dual disease burden of communicable and NCDs which provides new challenges and new opportunities to enact responsive changes in research and policy.
Speaking, the Delta State Governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa who was represented by the State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Nicholas Azinge, noted that there is need for the country to focus more on non communicable diseases such as hypertension among other diseases that WHO has predicted to cause more deaths by 2030 in developing countries like Nigeria.
Okowa called for more coordinated approaches to tackling NCDs as 80 percent of the four major cardiovascular diseases now occur in low and middle income countries. “There is need for government at all levels to strengthen initiatives on NCDs, shift more attention from communicable diseases to non communicable diseases.”
Also speaking, the Chairman of occasion, former INEC Chairman, Prof Maurice Iwu blamed increase of NCDs on lifestyle changes as most Nigerians have abandoned the traditional foods for westernised diets.