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122M Nigerians risk Neglected Tropical diseases- Health Minister

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By Sunday Elom N

Amidst Nigeria’s grapple to contain the Coronavirus pandemic, Yellow Fever, Lassa fever, amongst others, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire on Tuesday lamented that over 122 million Nigerians are at risk of Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs.

Dr. Ehanire revealed that the country is battling with 15 Neglected Tropical Diseases out of the 20 NTDs identified by the World Health Organization, WHO.

According to the Health minister, some of the diseases include; Trachoma, (Granular Conjunctivitis), Onchocerciasis, (River blindness) Lymphatic Filariasis, (Elephantiasis) helminthiasis, soil-transmitted, schistosomiasis, (parasitic worms), leprosy, snakebites Yaws Rabies, Buruli ulcer, Leishmaniasis, Human African Trypanosomiasis, HAT, etc.

The minister made this revelation when he addressed journalists at a two-day “Media Dialogue on Neglected Tropical Disease Control in Nigeria,” which held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.

Dr. Ehanire who was represented by the National Coordinator of NTDs, Dr. Nseobong Akpan, during the programme organized by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Child Rights Information, CRI, and Bureau of the Federal Ministry of Information, expressed regret that the diseases are so acute that they leave their victims in a miserable state.

The minister’s representative, Dr. Akpan who presented a paper on “Overview of the Neglected Tropical Diseases,” lamented that whenever diseases such as malaria, HIV and AIDs are mentioned, NTDs will not be included despite the fact they are common among the less privileged populace.

The NTDs National Coordinator who said that NTDs have significant impact on maternal, newborn, and child health also decried the negative impact these diseases have on the country’s economy, stating the obvious that economic development cannot occur without eliminating these diseases.

According to Dr. Akpan, “NTDs causes poor nutritional status, especially in children; Poor educational outcomes; reduced physical and cognitive development -children cannot attend school; absorb lessons. Low productivity -Infected adults cannot work effectively -adults may stay home to care for infected family members.

“We have done enough about NTDs but they are still raging across communities in the country. There is a need to create awareness and for communities to be involved in efforts geared towards eliminating the diseases. We will be able to eliminate the diseases if everyone including the media join in crying out loud and support in efforts and commitment of stakeholders to achieve success in the elimination of NTDs.”

Speaking on the statistical scope of NTDs, he said, “It is estimated that 122 million persons that are 2 out of every 3 Nigerians are at risk of one or more of the NTDs. Of the number, 20 per cent are pre-school. Age children, 28 per cent of school-age children between age 5 to 14 years and 52 per cent are adults 15 years and above.”

In the same vein, the Deputy Director, Programme Manager, National Schistosomiasis/Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis Elimination Programme, Dr. Obiageli Nebe who also presented a paper on Schistosomiasis, revealed that over 200 million people globally are infected with the disease.

Dr. Nebe noted that over 700 million people are living at risk of the infection and over 90 per cent of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Nebe who explained that Schistosomiasis affects poorest communities and most neglected vulnerable people more said, “Infants, children are especially prone to infection due to their less developed immune system as worm infestations are passed through contaminated food, water or soil.”

Also, a UNICEF WASH Specialist, Mr. Bioye Ogunjobi, who spoke on UNICEF’s support for the elimination of NTDs in Nigeria, said that lack of political will and low awareness remained an obstacle to the eradication of NTDs in the country.

He further disclosed that the Nigerian NTDs programmes were mainly sponsored by partners and therefore called on the Nigerian government to take more responsibility in the efforts geared toward the elimination of the diseases in the country.

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