A call for closer ties to communities
Former TDR Director Adetokunbo Lucas has called for broader partnerships to control Nigeria’s major infectious diseases. In an editorial in that country’s Vanguard newspaper, he highlighted the progress made in that country’s major infectious diseases - lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and schistosomiasis - and the challenges still ahead.
"We should make more effective use of Nigeria’s expert sociologists, political scientists, medical anthropologists and other social scientists... This is our best hope of preventing the sort of disputes and misunderstandings that sometimes break out in relation to major health interventions such as polio.”
Former TDR Director, Dr Adetokunbo Lucas
More than one billion people around the world are infected with what are called the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), including roughly 800 million children. Survivors are often left permanently disabled, disfigured or blinded, and many face a lifetime of health complications.
While Nigeria has eliminated guinea worm, and expanded drug distribution for other NTDs, Dr Lucas said, “We need to pay more attention to the role of regular people in responding to the new programmes. The general public must be treated as partners, not passive recipients. We should make more effective use of Nigeria’s expert sociologists, political scientists, medical anthropologists and other social scientists to enhance our understanding of popular beliefs and close the gap between health workers and the communities they serve. This is our best hope of preventing the sort of disputes and misunderstandings that sometimes break out in relation to major health interventions such as polio.”
He pointed to the approach developed out of TDR supported research to use local health workers to distribute the river blindness drug ivermectin. Communities took responsibility for developing the plan, identifying the health workers and managing its implementation. This strategy was so successful it is now being used to treat 98 million people in 24 sub Saharan African countries.
On 19 February, the Nigerian government launched a multi-year national plan to control and eliminate 10 of the most common NTDs. Participants from Nigeria’s 36 states came together in Abuja to finalize the overall strategy and make specific plans for each state that include determining priority locations, identifying those most at risk and how to efficiently deliver treatments.
For this intensified programme, Dr Lucas said, “We must make good use of lessons from our past. The best outcomes are achieved when key stakeholders collaborate effectively. The public sector, including health authorities and local, state and federal governments, has developed partnerships with the private sector. Non-governmental organizations make valuable contributions through their close working relationships with local communities, and pharmaceutical companies and other commercial enterprises provide massive drug donations.”
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