There is hope for thousands of Nigerians disfigured by lymphatic filariasis, a tropical disease which has become a public health concern, says Yisa Saka, the director of Neglected Tropical Disease Programs with the Ministry of Health.
Lymphatic filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis is a human disease caused by parasitic worms known as filarial worms and in most cases, the disease has no symptom.
The disease, which is common in tropical Africa and Asia, is classified as one of the neglected tropical diseases and one of the four main worm infections.
It is transmitted from infected persons to others by mosquito bite. The disease impairs the lymphatic system and can lead to the abnormal enlargement of body parts, severe disability and social stigma.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the ministry is partnering with the Carter Center in eliminating the disease in two states, Plateau and Nasarawa. Health officials are optimistic that millions of Nigerians would no longer be disfigured by the disease.
According to a press statement released by Carter Centre on Friday, Mr. Saka said the ministry, in collaboration with the Center and other partners, ”are gaining the advantage over a terrible disease that has plagued people for so long.”
“This is a great day for the people of Plateau and Nasarawa states, and all of Nigeria, With over 120 million people at risk nationwide, Nigeria is the most endemic country in Africa for the parasitic disease and second most endemic in the world, behind only India,” he said.
Frank Richards Jr, the director of the Carter Center’s Lymphatic Filariasis Elimination Program said eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem in Plateau and Nasarawa states is a significant achievement that challenges everyone to broaden their appreciation of what is possible.
“Success in these two states not only protects the 7 million people who live there, but it also sets a pattern for similar success throughout the rest of Nigeria, as well as in other highly endemic countries.”
It was learnt that to tackle the disease in the two states’ 30 local government areas, community-selected volunteers mobilised to educate neighbours and annually distributed a combination of free medications. In Plateau and Nasarawa alone, more than 36 million drug treatments for lymphatic filariasis were delivered between 2000 and 2012.
Gregory Noland, health program epidemiologist at the Center said over the past two years, more than 14,000 children ages six and seven throughout the two-states have been tested, ”and not one of them was found to be infected.”
Mr. Noland said ”this definitive outcome is a testament to the foresight of those who launched the program.
”We believe that elimination is possible in one of the world’s most endemic countries. In human terms, these children will never have to worry about being disabled by lymphatic filariasis,” he said.
Continued surveillance and maximising bed-net coverage are still required to guard against importation of the infection from surrounding endemic states until Nigeria achieves elimination nationwide, Mr. Noland cautioned.
Meanwhile, those already afflicted with elephantiasis in the state are given continual care and support to prevent further disability.