A new research paper by Nigerian authors has confirmed the elimination of river blindness in Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna states.
Surveys conducted as part of the Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases West and Central Africa (ASCEND) programme showed there were no new disease cases in the states and no evidence of the parasite in the black flies that spread it. With World Health Organisation thresholds for transmission interruption met, the regular distribution of medicine to prevent the disease could be halted in these states.
The paper published by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (RSTMH) in the peer-reviewed journal International Health, the supplement, Ascend: Lessons from the programme in West and Central Africa, looks at the impressive impact of the programme, as well as how to build on its success.
ASCEND was a flagship programme funded by UK Aid and delivered by a consortium of partners led by Sightsavers. The RSTMH supplement shares the successes and lessons learned from the ASCEND health initiative, which delivered more than a quarter of a billion treatments for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) to people across west and central Africa.
Dr Sunday Isiyaku, Nigeria Country Director at Sightsavers, commended the great strides put in place to eliminate river blindness in Nigeria with support from Sightsavers and partners.
Dr. Isiyaku said “it is, therefore, a great honour to have this research paper published, detailing the huge efforts that led to this milestone and showing how the reality of river blindness elimination can be achieved.
The Sightsavers Nigeria Boss noted that the last meeting of the National Onchocerciasis Elimination Committee indicated that more than five states in total are likely to achieve interruption in transmission by 2025.
Dr Isiyaku further stated that “the international recognition from the research paper will help these other states in their journey to interrupt transmission.
“Treatment and prevention for NTDs need to be integrated into the health system, and pressure must be kept up even as the country gets closer to elimination. We are committed to joining the Nigerian Ministry of Health in this fight to end NTDs.”
Another paper within the RSHTM supplement also recognises how the ASCEND programme in Nigeria ensured that every eligible individual has access to these critical interventions to treat and protect against NTDs.
In Benue State, this has included reaching those who have been displaced from Cameroon due to ongoing conflict there and have sought refuge in Nigeria. The ASCEND programme undertook the identiﬁcation and mapping of all Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and refugee camps in Benue State and trained State Emergency Management Agency ofﬁcials to supervise the regular mass distribution of medicines in all seven IDP camps and one refugee camp.
This highlights the embodiment of the ‘leave no one behind’ concept, which is at the heart of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and essential for the success of the WHOs (World Health Organization) (World Health Organization) 2030 NTDs elimination road map.
Debam Terhemba, the Benue State NTD Coordinator, said, “Leave No One Behind has been the underpinning principle for all our interventions – be it mass drug administration campaigns, disease management and disability inclusion.
“I must commend Sightsavers and ASCEND as the principle has entrenched inclusiveness and unequivocally addressed issues of marginalisation and inequalities saliently inherent during interventions as a result of discrimination based on the cultural divide, tribal and ethnic sentiments, social exclusion, myths and beliefs.
“Because of this strategy, deliberate and painstaking efforts are now being made to ensure that the most vulnerable and deprived communities have equal access during NTDs interventions. To this effect, all internally displaced camps, refugee camps, persons living with disabilities, and hard-to-reach areas are specially identified and targeted during our interventions.
“For us as a programme, the Leave No One Behind principle is crucial to us achieving the overarching goals of the 2030 NTDs road map and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
It will be recalled that at the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases earlier in June and during the signing of the Kigali Declaration on neglected tropical diseases earlier this year, the Federal Government of Nigeria pledged to Increase funding and resources across the country to support the elimination of NTDs and Strengthen collaboration, especially for water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives (WASH).