Ethiopia combats neglected tropical diseases

barefootHaving launched its national two-year master plan for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) for the years 2013-2015 earlier in the year, health and development organizations are expected to work with Ethiopian officials to achieve the goals of this plan by developing a clear understanding of the geographical distribution and burden of the diseases.

Once Equipped with this knowledge, these organizations are expected to then be able to target priority areas and determine geographical overlaps among the diseases to enable integrated control.

Elephantiasis is one of the most common NTDs found in Ethiopia. Health authorities say there are two principal causes of elephantiasis or lymphoedema in the tropics. The most common cause, and already known to be a significant public health problem is lymphatic filariasis (LF). The other main cause is podoconiosis: a form of elephantiasis arising in barefoot subsistence farmers who are in long-term contact with irritant red clay soil of volcanic origins.

Reports indicate that Elephantiasis is one of the NTDs with a clear potential for elimination. Among the eight NTDs, podoconiosis and lymphatic filariasis (LF) are prioritized. LF infection can be prevented and treated with a combination of medicines, while podoconiosis is easily preventable if shoes are consistently worn. In its early stages, the disease can be successfully treated. And even in its advanced stage, there are proven ways to manage its symptoms and prevent disabilities. Nonetheless, control and elimination efforts can be severely hampered by lack of information on the geographical distribution of the diseases.

Experts say besides the physical problems associated with elephantiasis, there are also social issues that patients deal with. The disability associated with elephantiasis creates considerable stigma and reduces productivity in patients. According to a study in Ethiopia published by Tropical Medicine and International Health, the total direct costs of podoconiosis amounted to the equivalent of $143 (£88) per patient per year and a productivity loss of about 45% of a patient’s total working days per year.

Ethiopia’s new initiative to map LF and podoconiosis is being executed in collaboration with several organizations. The Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI), supported by Wellcome Trust, DfID and End Fund, as well as Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), the Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases and the Global Atlas of Helminth Infections at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine are planning to map 1,384 communities in 692 districts, covering more than 130,000 individuals.

A total of 136 health providers have come together to form 34 teams, which will survey districts throughout the country. Each team includes a health officer, two nurses and a laboratory technician. The teams will all receive training on data collection and diagnostic tools from experts from EHNRI and BSMS. Each of the 34 teams will then select two communities per district, based on reported cases of elephantiasis from health facilities.

Data collected for the diagnosis of LF and podoconiosis diseases will be recorded using mobile phones to overcome the costs and challenges posed by paper-based surveys. This multi-organization partnership brings together various experts with a wealth of knowledge on the best ways of mapping diseases with technology.

The maps will be available for decision makers at national, regional and district level through publication and online databases. The Ethiopian health ministry and partners working on LF and podoconiosis will then be able to plan properly and better target their interventions to eliminate the disease.

Source: Guardian Professional

Leave a Reply