100m Nigerians risk elephantiasis infection, says Health Minister

The Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, says two out of every three Nigerians are at risk of being infected with the lymphatic filariasis disease.

Mr. Chukwu, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Fatimah Bamidele, disclosed this on Tuesday in Abuja at the National Conference to Stop Transmission of Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) and Malaria in Nigeria.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease, which occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes.

When a mosquito with infective stage larvae bites a person, the parasites are deposited on the person’s skin from where they enter the body and migrate to the lymphatic vessels where they develop into adult worms in the human lymphatic system.

The infection, according to WHO, is usually acquired during childhood, with the painful and profoundly disfiguring visible manifestations of the disease occurring later in life.

Whereas the acute stage of the disease leads to temporary disability, lymphatic filariasis leads to permanent disability.

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“LF as it is called and malaria are parasitic diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes; they are endemic in all states and the FCT.

“Nigeria is ranked the third highest global burden of lymphatic filariasis after India and Indonesia.

“Over a 100 million persons, that is two out of every three Nigerians are at risk of the disease.

“The LF prevalence studies indicates that 13 states have high prevalence rate of about 23 per cent, while the rest have prevalence rate of about 10 per cent.

“Such complications are major impediments to productivity and psychosocial well-being of our people.’’
The minister said the number of people who were administered drugs as treatment for lymphatic filariasis rose from 4.7 million in 2009 to 10 million in 2010, adding that the data for 2011 is still being collected.

He explained that more than 4,000 health workers and 50,000 community volunteers had been trained and retrained to deliver interventions on the disease.

The minister said malaria was a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the country.

According to him, more than 90 per cent of the population is at risk of the being infected with the disease.

He identified children under the age of five years, pregnant women, visitors from non-malaria infested regions and sickle cell anaemia patients as persons that were more vulnerable to the disease.

Mr. Chukwu said as part of intervention programmes, a total of 45.7 million long lasting insecticide nets were distributed in 29 states of the federation.

Also speaking, the Chairman of the event, General Yakubu Gowon, called for rapid scale-up intervention programmes targeted at the elimination of malaria and lymphatic filariasis.

Mr. Gowon also called on all international and local stakeholders to collaborate in eliminating the two diseases from Nigeria.

He said the conference was very important to Nigeria and significant on the global public health calendar.

Frank Richard, the Director, Malaria and Lymphatic Filariasis Programme at the Carter Center, Atlanta, USA, said the aim of the conference was to create awareness on the benefits of integrating malaria control and Lymphatic filariasis activities among relevant stakeholders.

Mr. Richard added that the conference was also aimed at scaling-up intervention programmes to eradicate the two diseases.

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