The following guest blog post from Benjamin Nwobi, resident program advisor for RTI International and the ENVISION project in Nigeria, and Sunday Isiyaku, country director for Sightsavers in Nigeria and lead for the UNITED Project, details a new alliance aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) program and maximizing the impact of resources directed at NTD control and elimination.
If we are to succeed in reaching the World Health Organization (WHO) NTD control and elimination targets for 2020, we must focus on Nigeria – a country with one of the highest NTD burdens in the world. We therefore commend the government of Nigeria for making NTDs a priority and working with partners to implement the national integrated NTD control and elimination plans. Such efforts have contributed to the eradication of guinea worm and will surely contribute to efforts such as the Saving One Million Lives Initiative.
It has been one hundred years since Nigeria’s independence and while much has changed through substantial development and investments, Nigeria’s rating against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health-Indicators still lags; maternal and child morbidity and mortality remain high and quality and affordable health services are either lacking or not readily accessible, especially for the 70 percent of Nigerians living on less than $2 a day.
It is not surprising then that Nigeria carries one of the highest burdens of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). These communicable diseases are inextricably linked with poverty and are prevalent in areas with poor sanitation, inadequate safe water supply and substandard housing conditions. In late March 2014, Nigeria and its partners celebrated the country receiving the WHO certification for officially eradicating Guinea worm disease. Nigeria had been the most endemic country in the world for guinea worm with over 800,000 cases documented. Scale-up efforts are now underway to achieve control and elimination of other high prevalence NTDs such as onchocerciasis, soil transmitted helminths (STH), schistosomiasis, trachoma and lymphatic filariasis (LF) by the year 2020.
An enormous task
An undertaking so ambitious requires unprecedented partnership and coordination. Nigeria is a federated country consisting of 36 states and 774 local government areas and each level of government plays a specific role in fighting NTDs. Implementing a national NTD programme that can effectively wipe out these diseases is an enormous task.
An estimated 31 million people are currently at risk for onchocerciasis across 32 states of the country. Though prevalence mapping is still underway, Nigeria is ranked third highest in the world for LF, with 63 million persons at risk, and is estimated to have one of the highest STH burdens in Africa. Trachoma is the second major cause of avoidable blindness in the northern part of Nigeria. Ongoing mapping efforts will provide more information on exactly which areas require treatment.
As Dr. Bridget Okoeguale, Director of Public Health at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health so aptly expressed, “We must work as a team or we cannot go anywhere.”
This is why USAID’s ENVISION Project implemented by RTI International and the Carter Center, and DfID’s UNITED project, led by Sightsavers, are establishing a new working order to donor-driven support for the national NTD programme in Nigeria – an alliance, aimed at exploiting synergies, eliminating duplication of efforts and maximizing impact of resources directed at NTD control and elimination.
With ENVISION working primarily in central and southern Nigeria and UNITED in northern Nigeria, the alliance helps the national program to maintain consistency and promote standardization of approaches across the various states, supporting not only the integrity of programming but also management functions such as drug logistics and data reporting, playing off the respective strengths of the partner organisations.
Maximizing reach and impact
Teams from ENVISION and UNITED support many of the same core programme areas in the states where they work; activities like mass drug administration and community education and sensitization. But each project also brings additional areas of support, not necessarily provided by the other project. Forming this alliance has allowed more geographic reach for this expertise than could be achieved otherwise.
RTI International has introduced a new planning tool, the NTD Tool for Integrated Planning and Costing (TIPAC) across the country, and this is now being used nationwide to improve planning and costing. RTI has also worked with the WHO to develop an integrated NTD database platform that will allow the country to store, manage, analyze and report NTD data more effectively across all states.
Sightsavers has been focusing on improving supply chain management for commodities such as drugs in its project states. The national-level component of this project supports clearing of all NTD drugs to the national Drug Storage. Again, in this case, all other states benefit from strengthened supply chain capacity and are therefore able to maximize output. They have also developed behaviour change tools and strategies that will be applied across Nigeria.
The synergies that have resulted from this close alliance bring unique benefits to Nigeria’s national NTD programme and its ability to advance towards its elimination timeline, especially when coupled with the comparative advantages for implementation achieved through the coalition of organisations working across the nation.
As we enter another century in Nigeria’s history as a country, we are hopeful that this alliance will continue to be one of the critical pillars in supporting the Nigerian Government in reducing the NTD burden. Together we will see how, when a country is committed and aid organisations and international governments synchronize and combine their efforts, ambitious goals can be achieved and the lives of Nigerians improved forever.