WHO Nigeria hands over life-saving de-worming drugs to protect against Schistosomiasis, a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD)

The World Health Organization (WHO) handed-over over five million life-saving de-worming tablets to the Federal Ministry of Health on 8 November 2012 to protect three million people from schistosomiasis. This worm-like disease stunts growth and cognitive development and causes anemia, and in pregnant women, can lead to an increased risk of delivering underweight babies. This contribution forms part of a consignment of 23,025 million tablets donated by Merck to support the scale-up of treatment to combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in Nigeria.

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Speaking at the event, the Officer in Charge of WHO Office in Nigeria, Dr Alex Gasasira says, “Thanks to the generous donation provided by Merck, WHO have been able to donate more than 20 million tablets to treat nearly eight million school children and adults in in 12 States namely, Plateau, Nasarawa, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Ekiti, Jigawa, Ogun, Ondo, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger.  This next consignment of five million tablets, worth US$3, 2 million will help us to scale up de-worming activities to reach another three million people.  In Nigeria, 33.5 million people, mainly children, are at risk of schistosomiasis.”

The life-saving drugs will be used to treat school-aged children and adults who are most at risk, such as those in endemic areas, and with occupations involving contact with infested water – such as fishermen, farmers, irrigation workers – and women whose domestic tasks bring them into contact with infested water. The treatment will also be complemented with health education. According to WHO, the therapy is considered the most effective treatment in the fight against the parasitic worm disease.

In 2000, the Member States signed the Millennium Declaration. This resolution lists the fight against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and ‘other’ diseases as one of its eight Millennium Development Goals, which should be largely achieved by 2015. To achieve these goals, one of the targets is for essential medicines to be offered at affordable prices. With good medicines and streamlined strategies, these diseases can be brought to their knees, actually contributing to poverty alleviation on a massive scale. Added to this, in 2001, the World Health Assembly – the highest decision-making body of WHO – also adopted a resolution that aimed to provide regular treatment to at least 75% of school-aged children at risk of morbidity due to helminthic (worm) infections by 2010. In response to this global resolution, Merck and other pharmaceutical companies and partners, have rallied behind this call to help countries to step up the treatments to combat schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminths (STH) in the African region.

WHO’s work on schistosomiasis is part of an integrated approach for the control and elimination of NTDs.  WHO uses the strategy of preventive chemotherapy (PCT), large-scale de-worming campaigns to prevent five of the major NTDs, namely: Lymphatic Filariasis, Schistosomiasis, Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis (STH) and Trachoma. Additionally, WHO also develops technical guidelines and tools for use by national control programmes.  To this end, WHO has supported Nigeria, one of 36 countries in the African region, to develop an integrated NTD multi-year plan (also called NTD Master Plan) for the period 2012–2016, which recommends streamlined strategies to combat these diseases. “This donation is a crucial part of the global push to control and eliminate NTDs,” said Dr Neeraj Mistry, managing director of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. “By supporting Nigeria in the implementation of its multi-year national plan, Merck is charting the path toward the 2020 NTD control and elimination goal in Africa and around the world.”

“This donation is even more timely given that the country is gearing up to officially launch its integrated NTD Master Plan soon. Within this context, Merck’s donation is a welcome donation towards ensuring implementation of the country’s NTD Plan. WHO remains committed to supporting the Ministry of Health and partners in the efforts to reduce the burden of NTDs as well as other diseases in Nigeria”, says Dr Gasasira.

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About Schistosomiasis:

The disease is spread in freshwater, where parasitic worm larvae infect people while swimming, fishing or washing laundry. They penetrate human skin, enter the blood vessels and attack the internal organs. The infection rate is particularly high among children. More information visit: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs115/en/index.html  

The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (GNNTD) is a global advocacy and resource mobilization initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, based in Washington, D.C.