18.9m Nigerians Saved From River Blindness – Health Ministry

The Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) has announced a record-breaking stop treatment decision that frees nearly 18.9 million Nigerians in four states from river blindness (onchocerciasis).

The announcement was contained in a circular released by the ministry on Monday, January 30, 2023 to commemorate this year’s World NTDs day.

NTDs are viral, parasitic and bacterial diseases that mainly affect the world’s poorest people. They include Buruli Ulcer
Chagas Disease, Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), Lymphatic Filariasis, Mycetoma, Onchocerciasis, Rabies, Schistosomiasis,Trachoma, Yaw and Snake bites, Soil-transmitted Helminths (STH) among others.

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Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire
in his keynote address at a press briefing on world NTDs day stated that, most NTDs are of public health importance, as they impact negatively on socio-economic development and affect an estimated one billion people worldwide, mostly Tropical areas of low-income in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Ehanire disclosed that Nigeria had about 25% of all NTDs in Africa, with millions of persons at risk: Lymphatic Filariasis-122 million, Onchocerciasis- 33 million, Schistosomiasis- 20.8 million, Soil Transmitted Helminths- 29.4 million, Trachoma- 5.3 million and Human African Trypanosomiasis- 6.5 million people respectively.

He said it was now accepted that addressing social determinants of health like Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) inadequacies were essential for NTD control and elimination. This, he added, must be promoted in Nigeria.

He further informed that the significance of the World NTDs Day was to renew global and national awareness of the magnitude of NTDs and also present opportunities to highlight progress made, challenges met, policy direction and advocate support for prevention, control, and elimination efforts.

Recounting the gains Nigeria had made in eliminating NTDs, the Health Boss said:

“Substantial progress has been made in the past decade, evidenced by the Guinea Worm Disease eradication in 2013, onchocerciasis transmission elimination in Plateau and Nasarawa States in 2019, with imminent prospects of Kaduna, Kebbi and Zamfara States being free of the disease soon, leaving us with fewer endemic states, and over 28 million persons no longer needing treatment.

“Other achievements by the ministry include, epidemiological mapping of preventable NTDs in all the 774 LGAs,
Ongoing Mass Administration of medicines in school-based and community deworming programmes, Mass Drug Administration for Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis.

“106 of 126 Trachoma endemic LGAs ending treatment and attaining elimination threshold, with 30 million persons, who were at risk of going blind from trachoma, reducing their risk to about 3.5 million.

“The NTD Programme has managed 70% of 200,000 persons in the backlog for trachoma surgeries”.

On his part, World Health Organisation (WHO) Nigeria Country Representative, Dr. Walter Kazadi Molumbo disclosed that, in 2022, the country conducted an assessment for lymphatic filariasis in 200 Local Government Areas (LGAs) out of 583 endemic LGAs.

Molumbo, who was represented by WHO National professional officer on NTDs, Dr. Aliyu Suleiman, said, “as of today, we have less than 300 LGAs needing assessment before stopping mass drug administration for this disease”.

Suleiman stated that WHO was advocating for NTD stakeholders and the country to keep NTD services accessible through innovation, strengthen NTD integration, cross-sector collaborations and mainstreaming, for stronger country ownership and accountability and Invest sustainably in NTDs for the best returns.

According to him, “we ask that the country stay committed to the delivery on the NTD road map 2021-2030, especially with the launch of the 2023-2027 master plan, address shortages of funds and medicines and foster partnerships”.

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