The Evolution of an NTD programme in Nigeria

Nigeria child being measured identify
correct dosage for riverblindness
treatment. Image Kate Holt SightSavers

In 2013, Nigeria launched its first multi-year national plan for the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTD Master Plan). For a country that bears the largest NTD burden within Sub-Saharan Africa and the world’s highest burden for onchocerciasis and schistosomiasis, the NTD Master Plan provides a platform for Nigeria to stimulate global efforts to reach elimination and control of diseases under The London Declaration on NTDs and the Millennium Development Goals.

The evolution of the Nigeria onchocerciasis (also known as river blindness) through the NTD and eye health communities working together programme embodies this collaborative approach.

The first national blindness survey

The Nigeria National blindness survey which took place between 2005 and 2007 established that the prevalence of blindness due to river blindness and trachoma was significant. To address the issue of blinding NTDs comprehensively in Nigeria, the ministry of health would need to bring together primary eye care workers alongside community drug distributors (CDDs) for NTD treatments.

Reaching under-served communities

Through this partnership, both health and community structures have been developed in Nigeria leading to over 22,000 health workers and 200,000 community drug distributors trained. The project demonstrated that is was easier to reach the rural communities with eye health services using the NTD structure.

Delivering NTD and eye health programmes

Working together, the PEC workers trained CDDs to include promotion of eye health in their messaging on blinding NTDs. Both groups worked collaboratively to ensure that community members who needed it were referred for treatments with CDDs referring eye health cases to the PEC workers. As well as increasing the reach of the programme it also strengthened the coordination and surveillance mechanisms as well as building capacity at the community levels for eye care.

Benefits of collaboration

Evidence from the Nigeria experience has shown that integration of control interventions for several related NTDs and other health conditions is feasible, provides value for money and in line with principles of right to health. Successful examples within NTD control and elimination show that the MOH must be in the lead but with full participation of all stakeholders, including communities, other ministries, NGDOs, and donors to achieve implementation goals.

A Nigeria free of NTDs

The vision of the NTD master plan is to achieve a Nigeria free of Neglected Tropical Diseases and its integrated approach acts as a strong tool to improve health and other development outcomes at minimal costs to health systems. Nigeria’s commitment to addressing NTDs through the launch of the NTD master plan highlights the importance of not only recognizing NTDs as a major health concerns, but also of simultaneously recognizing the role that addressing these diseases can play reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for Nigerians.