By Hassan Zaggi
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) have suffered enormous neglect in Nigeria over the years.
Nigeria as a nation has neglected these group of diseases, unfortunately, at its peril.
The negative impact of neglecting NTDs is huge on the patients in particular and the economy of the nation at large.
In fact, from the stand point of experts, if Nigeria refuses to give urgent attention to these diseases, the consequences in the future will be unimaginable.
Neglected Tropical Diseases include Onchocerciasis, Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, Helminthiasis, Trachoma, Snakebite, Rabies, Buruli Ulcer, Leprosy, Yaws, Leishmaniasis and many others.
They are caused by viruses, bacteria, protozoa and affect mostly the poor, vulnerable and the disadvantaged who live in remote and hard to reach areas of the country.
Fortunately, however, NTDs are preventable and treatable. They can be prevented if Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities are made available in communities.
NTDs are dangerous to the extent that they have the capacity to disfigure and disable their victims, keep children out of school and parents out of work.
NTDs cripple their victims, limit their potentials and subject individuals and communities to penury and severe poverty.
NTDs create circle of poverty and affect the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country every year.
It is worrisome to know that all states in Nigeria are endemic for one or more of these NTDs.
Nigeria must urgently end the neglect because it is scary to know that an estimated 122 million persons , that is 2 out of every 3 Nigerians are at risk of one or more of these NTDs.
Of this number, 20 per cent are pre-school age children, 28 per cent school age children and 52 per cent are adults. This, therefore, means that Nigeria’s future is not secure if we continue to neglect these diseases.
To further break it down, about 119.8 million people are said to be at risk of lymphatic filariasis, 51.4 million people for onchocerciasis, 28.8 million school age children and 20.5 million pre-school age children are said to be at risk of soil-transmitted helminths while 23.8 million school age children are at risk of schistosommiasis.
The most painful aspect of all these is that, even though there has been little budgetary provision meant to combat the NTDs in the country over the years, but the release is most times zero.
The neglect is annoying and must be put to an end.
Speaking at a two-day media dialogue organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, recently, the National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Elimination Programme in Nigeria, Dr. Nse Akpan, said that the near-zero funding of the programme is crippling the fight against the diseases.
He lamented the manner and way funding for the fight against the NTDs is near-zero, disjointed, in piece-meal and epileptic.
Findings by our Correspondent indicated that the NTDs Elimination Programme is among the programmes that enjoy less attention at the Federal Ministry of Health.
In fact, findings from reliable sources at the ministry revealed that NTDs Elimination Programme is the last to be remembered when allotting monies (envelops) for activities.
For some years now, there has not been any substantial money that was released SPECIFICALLY for the fight against the tropical diseases.
Over the years, the NTDs Elimination Programme has been surviving through the goodwill of NGOs and sadly, however, support by the NGOs is already becoming scanty. “In Nigeria, funds have always been allocated for NTDs, but the release is epileptic. I will not be shy. Why is the release so epileptic? The reason is that this is a country we enjoy donor support. It is when we do not have the donor support again, may be, we will wake up and be taking the challenge by ourselves.
“But for now, we still have the donor support so the country will appropriate a huge amount, but the release generally, not only on NTDs, not only in the Federal Ministry of Health, in all the line ministries, the release comes in epileptic way,” Dr. Akpan said.
While responding to a question on the specific amount the NTDs programme got in the past two years, he said: “The specific amount varies. In 2020, we were challenged with the issue of COVID-19, over 200 million was appropriated, I believe, 80 per cent of the amount was diverted to tackle COVID-19 issue and 20 per was left for other programmes.
“We had to adjust because we were not sure whether we will meet up with that challenge at that time.
“In 2021, yes, the funding still came in piece meal. It is only the account section that can give you the total figure.
“But we cannot say that we have not receive anything. We receive wholistic as a public health department and shared it to all departments base on the programmes.
“Today, what we have to NTDs mostly go for snake bite which we use for the procurement of anti-snake bite venom which costs millions of naira.”
Such disjointed and unclear funding pattern must change if the government is interested in overcoming the negative effect of NTDs on vulnerable Nigerians .
However, many experts believe that it is time for Nigeria to take complete ownership of the fight against the NTDs.
Depending on donors is risky and not the best for Nigeria as a nation.
In fact, programmes like Schistosomiasis, in some states like Bayelsa don’t enjoy support from NGOs apart from UNICEF. The state governments must, therefore, rise up to protect the lives of their people.
Donor fatigue is setting in globally, therefore, surrendering the fate of our people to donors is dangerous. It is time for the federal government to act fast.
While we call on the National Assembly to give priority to, and also improve the budgetary provision for the NTDs, it is also pertinent that it triggers its powers of oversight and follow up to ensure that the little monies release for the NTDs elimination programme are put to judicious use.
The Minister of Health and indeed, the entire ministry must also ensure that the little resources available are used transparently and judiciously, too.
The state governments must show interest in this fight as most people affected are within their domain.
Nigerians must also improve on their health-seeking behaviour. Visiting the near-by clinic when having unusual feeling will help in the early diagnosis and treatment of, not only NTDs, but all forms of diseases.