Written by Ijeoma UKAZU
30 years of pain. Sometimes, I feel like ending it all - Victim of Lymphatic Filariasis
As flourishing as her business was, Madam Bilikis Asimiu, a hard-working woman, would have gone farther in life but for her condition- Lymphatic Filariasis, one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases, she had to depend on people to get by daily.
Tired with her condition, she said, " sometimes, I look at myself and want to end it all. But because of my children, I want to continue to live especially, my last child that is still very young."
Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, hardly receives attention in Nigeria and Bilikis is no exception as the disease has wrecked her livelihood and productivity.
In Nigeria, it is estimated that 122 million persons, that is, two out of three Nigerians are at risk of contracting one or more NTDs which is known to limit human potentials, leave communities abjectly poor, and eventually kills the individual.
Bilikis, aged 45 whose son had always dreamt of being a doctor had his academic pursuit cut short to the level of Junior Secondary certificate as she could not sponsor him any further.
According to her, "My child that rides Okada is the one I had hope would become a great man. The Okada that he rides, I don't like it because he wanted to be a medical doctor."
Narrating her ordeal during a field trip organized by the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF at her residence in Ibadan, South West LGA, Bilikis said, " I have been like this for 30 years. I can recall that I used to go to the stream when I was growing up. I was a good swimmer. Each time I went to the stream and came back, I always had this itchy feeling but I didn't have an idea what it was all about. "But after a while, each time it itches me, my body swells from my waist down to my legs. My family thought somebody has afflicted me but after a while, the left leg started swelling up. A few years ago, the right leg started swelling up too."
Continuing, Bilikis recounted that, "because of my condition, I was only able to get to primary five which is my last academic qualification. I decided to go into trading beverages.
"But each time I go out, my legs swell the more with water coming out from it and flies roaming and perching on my legs. I decided not to go out again. Since I have not gone out, the legs has been dry, not swollen, and without smell. I have been able to manage. I prefer to stay at home while my children fend for me."
Bilikis is among millions of Nigerians with NTDs whose means of livelihood have been put on hold forcing her to depend on family, friends, and well-wishers thereby lowering her productivity.
"Sustainable economic development cannot occur without addressing NTDs because we need to have a country free of NTDs," says Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, Director and National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases Elimination Programme, Federal Ministry of Health, FMoH told journalists recently at a two-day media dialogue on NTDs in Nigeria, at Ibadan, Oyo State.
He said the NTDs are a group of 20 disease conditions common in Sub-Saharan regions and are associated with poverty, lack of safe drinking water, sanitation, substandard housing conditions, and deficient healthcare access. Other NTDs are Onchocerciasis (River Blindness), Schistosomiasis, Soil-transmitted Helminthiasis, Trachoma, Snakebite Envenoming, Rabies, Buruli Ulcer, Leprosy, Yaws, Leishmaniasis, Human African Trypanosomiasis, HAT, Guinea-worm Disease amongst others.
Anyaike called for more funding to address NTDs, stating that, Nigeria needs the sum of N154 billion to eradicate NTDs in the next few years, as these diseases cause disabilities among its victims and limit productivity stressing the need to eliminate the illnesses.
The expert explained that NTDs are a group of preventable and treatable diseases that could be caused by viruses, bacteria, and protozoa.
The disease, according to him, affects 1.5 billion people globally – 40 percent of who live in Africa and that it affects the poorest, most vulnerable people who live in hard to reach parts of Africa. While saying that all states in Nigeria are endemic for one or more of these NTDs, Anyaike said, "it is estimated that 122 million persons (that is two out of every three Nigerians) are at risk of one of these NTDs. Of this number, 20 percent are pre-school age children, 28 percent school-age children (5-14 years) and 52 percent are adults (15 years and above)."
Explaining further, he said that, 119.8 million Nigerians are at risk of Lymphatic Filariasis, 51.4 million people at risk of the Onchocerciasis, 28.8 million school-age children and 20.5 million pre-school age children are at risk of soil-transmitted helminths, 26.8 million people at risk of trachoma and 23.8 million school-age children are at risk of schistosomiasis.
On the impacts of the NTDs, the expert said: “NTDs cause end-organ damages due to chronic infections, significant impact on maternal, newborn, and child health, causes poor nutritional status, especially in children; poor educational outcomes, low productivity, pose a devastating obstacle to the attainment of Universal Health Coverage, UHC and NTDs negatively impact economic growth, social development, and poverty reduction initiatives.
Reeling out achievements made so far by NTDs Elimination Programme, he disclosed that Trachoma transmission has been interrupted in 84 LGAs out of 122 LGAs in 10 States- Edo, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Katsina, Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, and Zamfara.
Anyaike said, "about 85,775 cases of Trachomatous trichiasis surgeries conducted from the inception of the programme to date. "Over 26,000 cases of trichiasis were managed in 2019. More than 700 million donated medicines used annually, worth trillions of naira in production, shipping, and other logistics."
The Director and National Coordinator added that over 200 million cumulative treatments achieved in 2019 and strengthening of the NTDs Supply Chain Management, SCM, and development of Logistics Management Information Systems, LMIS tools."
He stressed that Nigeria needs to reduce the morbidity and mortality of the NTDs diseases to the barest minimum, adding that there is a need to control, eliminate and eradicate the diseases."
Anyaike said in tackling NTDs, some strategies have been recommended, they include mass administration of medicines, innovation and intensified disease management, integrated vector management as well as improved water, sanitation, and hygiene. He also laid emphasis on the urgent need for government to strengthen ownership, advocacy and partnership, stating that, the challenges of the diseases are; poor funding, lack of information while some people have wrong ideas about the disease, and dirty environment.