A recent survey by Sightsavers and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health shows 7 of every 10 children of school age in the northern state of Zamfara are infected with one or more neglected tropical diseases(NTDs).
The World Health Organization has categorized 18 diseases as NTDs which affect over 1.4 billion people around the world. These diseases cause sickness and disability which affect children’s mental and physical development. Two of them, trachoma and onchocerciasis, lead to blindness if not treated.
A model primary school supported by UNICEF is located in Furi in Bungudu Local Government Area of Zamfara.
Dayyasi Lawali is a ten-year-old pupil there. He’s been living with a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis for several years. If it goes untreated, it can damage internal organs and impair growth and mental development.
Today, with a single dose of the tablet, prazequantel, he is cured of the condition, thanks to a treatment program directed by the community with support from Sightsavers and the Federal Ministry of Health.
Sightsavers is an international charity that works to prevent avoidable blindness while promoting equal opportunity for disabled people in the developing world.
In this case it’s working on a program that goes beyond vision care to controlling NTDS.
They affect the poorest, most marginalized people, who often live in remote areas or urban slums.
The diseases increase poverty by reducing one’s ability to earn a living. In severe cases people can’t work or care for themselves or their families, which increases the chances of children having to drop out of school to care for the family.
Dr. Ibrahim Nazaradeen is medical director at King Fahad Ibn Abdul-Aziz Women and Children Hospital, Gusau. He’s also the program manager of the Zamfara State Eye Care Program. He provides clinical advice on the control of the Neglected Tropical Diseases project in the state:
“Other illnesses include onchosiachiasis, helmenthiasis, schistomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and trachoma. But attention has not been given to them and that is why this issue of neglected tropical diseases comes.”
The diseases are often overlooked in health planning. Sightsavers and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health and Zamfara State Ministry of Health are hoping to protect over 1.3 million people from neglected tropical diseases in Zamfara state.
Dr. Nazaharadeen describes the damage done by some of these illnesses:
“With schistosomiasis, you see children passing [blood into the] urine sometimes [well into] adulthood. With onchocerciasis [river blindness] you have manifestations on the skin as well, just like lymphatic filariasis [elephantiasis], in which you have body swollen in some part of the body like the scrotum, the legs, and even on the limbs.”
He says if these diseases are not treated in time, they can kill or cause severe, possibly lifelong, physical impairment.
One of the beneficiaries of the effort , pupil Dayyasi Lawali, explains how his treatment helps him: “If I pass urine, it normally comes with blood, but since I took some tablets in school after some time the [bleeding] stopped.”
He’s not alone. Almost 9 out of 11 pupils in that school and many others in Furi-Furi town benefit from the same treatment. Older people in several other communities in about 11 local government areas of the state also benefit.
The treatment combines drugs for the illness with public education on how to avoid water sources containing parasites.