National Tropical Diseases: UNICEF, others warn on risk of infection of 122 million Nigerians

Stakeholders in the health sector have urged government at all levels to release a proportion (0.05%) of the total budget annually to implement critical activities that will fast track elimination of National Tropical Diseases (NTDs), with no fewer than 122 million Nigerians at risk of been infected.

The NTDs are conditions that are common in tropical or sub-tropical regions due to poverty, poor sanitation, lack of safe water resources, substandard housing conditions, and deficient health acres access among others.

Nigeria is believed to be battling with 15 out of 20 NTDs listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Speaking at a two day media dialogue in Port Harcourt, National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Disease Elimination Program of Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Nse Akpan said the government will not succeed alone in eliminating NTDs. He said all hands must be on  deck, and that the three tiers of government, LGAs States, FG, and the communities must be involved to address the challenges.

He noted that “neglected tropical diseases are a group of preventable and treatable diseases that could be caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa that affect 1.5 billion people – 40% of whom live in Africa. The diseases affect the poorest, most vulnerable people who live in hard to reach parts of Africa.

“They disfigure, disable, and keep children out of school and parents out of work – limiting their potentials and leave communities stuck in poverty.

Community involvement has to do with checking overcrowding and ensuring that people live in clean  environment. We should walk towards having safe water supply. By the time we start these, you would be able to eliminate NTDs”.

UNICEF Representative and WASH specialist Bioye Ogunjobi, said the agency was currently supporting 12 states by funding mass administration of medicine, distribution of medicine to those who are affected for treatment.

“We have also been supporting WASH NTDs integration that is promoting safe sanitation practices in endemic communities because we have discovered that most of the NTDs are WASH related.

“So we have brought media practitioners here to start doing report on NTDs that will create awareness among the Nigerian populace, but more importantly, we want the policy makers to understand why they need to invest in NTDs control intervention. In most of the states, the NTDs team does not have any fund for any activity, so we want this to change, unless this changes, we might not be able to eliminate the NTDs.

 “For some of us who are working with the Federal Government, WHO, UNICEF, other partners, we are interested in a country that is free of NTDs, but this cannot happen by 2030 which is the year for elimination, except the governments increase their investment in this area.

“For instance, there are some of the states we have supported that require evaluation, especially epidemiological  evaluation, that will show if they still need to be given drugs for treatment. If these states are evaluated and they are successful, it means treatment will stop and that is a step towards the elimination of the diseases “.

Geoffrey Njoku, Communication Specialist, UNICEF, informed that the purpose of the dialogue was to change the narrative and perception on NTDs, close communication gap that exists in communities and create more awareness about the diseases.

He added that the dialogue was expected to get the media better informed and better equipped with the right and appropriate messages to reduce incidence of morbidity and mortality from the disease.

The two-day media dialogue was organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) in Port Harcourt.

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