50 Million Nigerians At Risk Of River Blindness

River Blindness

By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale

It is no longer news that many of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, have gradually disappeared from large parts of the world as economies developed and living conditions and hygiene improved. Sadly, Nigeria has continued to suffer Africa’s biggest burden with 122 million Nigerians at risk of any of the diseases.   These ancient diseases that have plagued humanity for centuries, blind, maim, disfigure, and debilitate their victims, causing untold misery that throws populations into poverty. According to the Director and National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases Elimination Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, all States are endemic for one or more of these diseases.   These include;  Onchocerciasis also known as river blindness, Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, Soil-transmitted Helminthiasis, Trachoma, Case Management (CM) NTDs, Snakebite Envenoming, Rabies, Buruli Ulcer, Leprosy, Yaws, Leishmaniasis, Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) and Guinea-worm Disease (eliminated).

One of the diseases plaguing most states in Nigeria, particularly, in the South West area of the country is Onchocerciasis also known as river blindness.  Available statistics show that 50 million Nigerians were at risk of the infection. While almost every state in the South-West geopolitical zone is endemic of the disease. Currently, data from the Federal Ministry of Health revealed that all 16 Local Government Areas, LGAs in Ekiti state are all endemic for Onchocerciasis while in Ondo, 14 out of 18 are endemic and in Oyo, 28 LGAs out of 33 LGAs are endemic. Also in Osun State, 28 out of 30 LGAs are endemic and in Ogun State, 18 LGAS out of 20 are all endemic of the disease. On his part, Programme Manager, National Onchocerciasis Elimination Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr Michael Igbe disclosed that 50 million persons in Nigeria are at risk of onchocerciasis. Stating that onchocerciasis was the second leading cause of preventable blindness, he said the disease is caused by the nematode Onchocerca volvulus, and transmitted by the bite of an infected black fly: Simulium damnosum and other species, breeding in fast-flowing streams & rivers (well-oxygenated water). He said infection with O. volvulus leads to reduced immunity and resistance to other diseases which can lead to a reduction of life expectancy of up to 13 years. Speaking about their experience in Osun state, Igbe said that when they started in 1992 the intervention was about 48,150 but as at 2019, it has been scaled up to 3,442,249, “Base on 2019 projection, people at risk in Osun was 4,450,812 but we have successfully treated 3.442,249 people. “It will not be out of place if people assume that the whole of Osun is at risk when you are treating people in 28 LGA out of 30 LGA. Ola-Oluwa local government area has the highest prevalence. He explained that people exempted from treatment are children, pregnant women, and seriously sick people, “but the bulk of the population is to be treated for the disease.” He disclosed that it’s not only Osun that is endemic in the country, “we have up to 32 states that are endemic with FCT make it 33. This is to tell you that the country is endemic for the disease. On challenges in eradicating the disease, Igbe identified security challenges in some LGAs, poor funding support by government for NTD interventions, inadequate provision for logistics for NTD programme implementation and especially supportive supervision, and Community implementers’ attrition, one of the reasons being poor incentives as major factors affecting efforts to eliminate the disease.

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