The United Nations health agency today handed over more than five million de-worming tablets to the Nigerian Government to protect three million people from schistosomiasis, a disease that stunts growth and cognitive development.
The contribution by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) is part of a consignment of over 23 million tablets donated by the pharmaceutical company Merck to boost treatments and combat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in Nigeria.
"Thanks to the generous donation provided by Merck, WHO has been able to donate more than 20 million tablets to treat nearly eight million school children and adults in 12 states, namely, Plateau, Nasarawa, Edo, Delta, Taraba, Ekiti, Jigawa, Ogun, Ondo, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger," said the officer-in-charge of the WHO Office in Nigeria, Alex Gasasira, during the hand-over ceremony in Abuja, the capital.
"This next consignment of five million tablets, worth $3.2 million will help us to scale up de-worming activities to reach another three million people," he added. "In Nigeria, 33.5 million people, mainly children, are at risk of schistosomiasis."
In addition to stunting growth, schistosomiasis also causes anemia, and in pregnant women, can lead to an increased risk of delivering underweight babies. The disease is spread in freshwater, where parasitic worms 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.
The de-worming tablets 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 be complemented with health education, WHO added in a news release.
Nigeria is one of 36 countries in the African region which has received WHO support to develop a multi-year plan to combat NTDs, known as the NTD Master Plan, for the period 2012-2016 which recommends streamlined strategies to combat this type of diseases.
"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," Mr. Gasasira said. "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."