Expert seeks greater attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases in Nigeria
By Chioma Obinna
I cannot feed myself and my two children, and we would have starved to death if not for my son that hustles daily with his commercial motorcycle (okada). My dream was shattered and the dream I have for my son is going the same way, because of these legs.”
These were the lamentation of Madam Bolanle once a popular businesswoman in Ibadan, Oyo State, but currently down with Lymphatic Filariasis, LF, also known as Elephantiasis.
Lymphatic filariasis is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, caused by a paradise called Wuchereria bancrofti and transmitted by an infected female Culex mosquito.
For Bolanle, life no longer means much as she is completely incapacitated. She told Good Health Weekly how the condition which started as an itch, has wrecked her family.
“My dream was to become a nurse after secondary school but I managed to finish Primary Five.”
Bolanle could not go further in her education no thanks to complications of the disease which started as a mere scratch. She opted to become a trader.
“I never had an idea that mere scratching of my body will result in my condition today but after a while, each time I itched, my body will be swelling from my waist.”
Bolanle said: “At the beginning, my family thought somebody must have afflicted me with the disease but after a while, the problem continued with the left leg swelling up, the right leg started to swell two years ago.”
Her family raised money and Bolanle set up a provision store which grew, but the worst was yet to come.
With time, the problem worsened and she was forced to invest her capital into finding a solution to her ailment. It was all in vain.
Along the course of her travails, Bolanle got married twice but was abandoned by each man soon after as a result of her condition.
Bringing up the two surviving children is one of her biggest challenges. With her dream of becoming a nurse shattered, Bilikisi hoped that her 29-year-old son would become a medical doctor, but that was not to be.
“I have had two husbands and five children but later lost three and the two husbands left me. I have tried fending for my children but it is hopeless. At a point I began to stay home because each time I tried to walk, my legs will swell up with fluid gushing out, and flies perching on them, so I decided not to go out again.
“Each time I stayed at home, the sores dried up and the odour reduced. So I prefer to stay at home. But for my predicament, my plan for my son that is riding okada was for him to become a doctor,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“My elder son is 29, and he rides okada to support the family while the second one which is 14 just completed primary school. He took time to complete primary six because of the family challenges. If I was not having this problem, I would have worked and struggled and impacted society positively.
“That my elder old son had plans to further his education back then, but I told him I had no money, so I encouraged him to learn tailoring. But the tailoring was not helping the family much so he decided to ride okada.”
Overwhelmed, Bolanle confessed she contemplated suicide “Sometimes I feel like ending it all but any time I look at my children I find reasons to live.”
Bolanle said rather than have her legs amputated, she will rather continue to live with the condition.
More attention needed to tackle NTDs
Statistics show that 2 in every 3 Nigerians are at risk of one or more NTDs. In a presentation entitled: “Overview Of Lymphatic Filariasis In Nigeria”, a director in the Federal Ministry of Health, FMoH, Mr. Emmanuel Davies explained that major chronic stages of Elephantiasis take 10 years or more to clinically manifest in an infected person.
Davies who spoke in Ibadan, during a two -day Media Dialogue on NTDs in Nigeria organises by UNICEF in collaboration with the Child Rights Information Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information, said lymphatic filariasis remains a public health problem in Nigeria, being endemic in 583 (75.3 per cent) of the 774 LGAs.
“Out of the 583 endemic LGAs, 528 (90.6 per cent) with a population of 134,454,174 are under treatment for lymphatic filariasis; while 39 LGAs (6.7 per cent) with a population of 8,761,509, have stopped Mass Administration of Medicines, MAM, in Nasarawa, Plateau, Cross River, and the FCT.
There are16 (2.7 per cent) endemic LGAs with a population of 7,024,604 people in Borno, Lagos, Oyo, and Rivers states that were yet to receive treatment as of the end of 2019.
The disease is expensive to treat, according to Davies who said a tablet of Ivermectin costs $1.50 (N540.00) while Albendazole costs $0.45 (N171.00) even as the cost of treatment per person per round was put at N1,706.
He said Nigeria requires an estimated N800,000 for assessments of lymphatic filariasis but regretted that the country has a treatment gap in 16 endemic LGAs in Borno, Lagos, Oyo, and Rivers states.
Other challenges include; inadequate funding for treatment, supervision, and assessment, delay in the arrival of procured diagnostic tools for LF assessments, poor reporting of LF MMDP in States, and inadequate publicity of National programme by the media.