Despite Strong Economic Growth, Neglected Tropical Diseases Remain a Barrier for Human Development in Nigeria

By Sabin Admin

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, the open-access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases published a comprehensive report showcasing the high burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Nigeria. The paper’s authors, Drs. Peter Hotez, Oluwatoyin Asojo and Adekunle Adesina, found that despite Nigeria’s recent economic growth, progress in human development areas such as public health have lagged, contributing to high rates of NTDs in the country.

Among all African nations, Nigeria has the highest number of people infected with high-prevalence NTDs, such as soil transmitted helminth (STH) infections, schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (LF). In fact, Nigeria not only has the highest prevalence of both schistosomiasis and river blindness in Africa, but also the highest global rates of these debilitating NTDs. The resulting enormous disease burden adversely affects maternal and child health and worker productivity in Nigeria, a pattern repeated throughout Africa.

“NTDs often perpetuate the cycle of poverty,” said Dr. Hotez, president of Sabin Vaccine Institute and director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “Because they can cause severe illness and long-term disability, they prohibit children from attending school and adults from working or even caring for their children.” Dr. Hotez is also the founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

However, Nigeria is in a unique position to quickly improve the devastation caused by NTDs. It has the third largest economy in Africa, with a gross domestic product (GDP) that is similar to western European countries such as Belgium and Sweden. As a result, Nigeria is better equipped than other neighboring countries to provide affordable access to NTD treatment and control programs.

NTDs are some of the most cost-effective public health programs available today. In Nigeria, the approximate cost to treat the population for the most common NTDs is 0.1 percent of the GDP.

Some strides have already been made to help eliminate NTDs in Nigeria. For example, Nigeria has been successful in its efforts with the Carter Center and the World Health Organization (WHO)to eradicate guinea worm. Through investments with the Nigerian government that exceeded US $2 million, along with other public and private support, the disease’s transmission has been halted there since 2009. Additionally, the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health has successfully collaborated with the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC) to ensure that 96 percent of the 35,000 at-risk communities have received and/or continue to receive treatment to prevent river blindness. In addition to calling for an expansion of ongoing NTD control and elimination efforts, the authors call for continued collaboration between the Nigerian government and public health organizations such as UNICEF, WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) and the Carter Center to continue this important work to reduce the burden of NTDs.

“Nigeria can build on past success by aggressively expanding its national disease prevention programs to include integrated mass-drug administration (MDA) programs to treat several NTDs at once, helping to stop the disease transmission cycle and ultimately see the end of these diseases,” said Dr. Adesina, also at Texas Children’s Hospital and the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The authors also called for new treatment and prevention tools, such as simpler and less expensive diagnostic reagents and more research and development for NTD vaccines, which is currently underway at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

“Nigeria’s research institutes and universities have an enormous potential to contribute to the development of a new generation of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines for these conditions,” said Dr. Asojo, a scientist and faculty member at the National School of Tropical Medicine.

“A Nigeria free of NTDs will accelerate the country’s economic development through improvements in worker productivity, pregnancy outcomes and childhood education,” concluded Dr. Hotez.  “By expanding integrated NTD control, Nigeria could quickly become a role model for all of Africa.”

The full paper, “Nigeria: ‘Ground Zero’ for High Prevalence Neglected Tropical Diseases,” can be found at www.plosntds.org.

About NTDs
NTDs are a group of 17 parasitic and bacterial infections that are the most common afflictions of the world’s poorest people. They blind, disable and disfigure their victims, trapping them in a cycle of poverty and disease. Research shows that treating NTDs lifts millions out of poverty by ensuring that children stay in school to learn and prosper; by strengthening worker productivity; and by improving maternal and child health.

 About Sabin Vaccine Institute 

Sabin Vaccine Institute is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization of scientists, researchers, and advocates dedicated to reducing needless human suffering caused by vaccine preventable and neglected tropical diseases. Sabin works with governments, leading public and private organizations, and academic institutions to provide solutions for some of the world’s most pervasive health challenges. Since its founding in 1993 in honor of the oral polio vaccine developer, Dr. Albert B. Sabin, the Institute has been at the forefront of efforts to control, treat, and eliminate these diseases by developing new vaccines, advocating use of existing vaccines, and promoting increased access to affordable medical treatments. For more information please visit www.sabin.org.

About Baylor College of Medicine

 

 

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