A survey of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) conducted across the country by the Ministry of Health, Access Project and TRAC-plus, exposed the need to highlight and address these diseases.
Consequently a Mass Drug Administration [MDA] was initiated to counter them and a countrywide sensitisation campaign was undertaken upon to raise awareness and inculcate preventive measures.
Malik Kayumba a community officer with access Project disclosed that there were over 10 NTDs but those being focussed on in Rwanda include Soil Transmitted Helminthes infections (STH), Schiostomiasis [Bilharzia] and Trachoma.
According to the 2008 survey on STH in schools among children conducted in 166 schools in 30 districts, “six species of intestinal helminthes were identified with an overall (countrywide) prevalence of 65.8 percent for (STH) infections.”
The survey points out that, “the predominant parasites were Ascari lumbricoides as observed in 38.6 percent of the students followed by hookworms in 331.6 percent. Trichris trichiura in 27 percent and S. mansion [intestinal schiosomiasis] was found in 2.7 percent of the students.”
Access Project recently announced an adult de-worming program to be carried out next month in Ruhondo and Burera districts as areas with a high prevalence of intestinal worms. The program targets a population of about 60,000 people.
A survey carried out in children between 10-16 years found out that, 2.7 percent suffer from schistosomiasis, with the prevalence reaching 70 percent of those in close proximity to lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Muhazi and surrounding swamps.
At the start of this year through the MDA more than 3 million children were treated country.
Kayumba, explained that there was also a high prevalence of bilharzias in the mentioned districts due to proximity to water bodies which are breeding areas for the parasites. Poor sanitary conditions have also exacerbated the situation of intestinal worms.
“The districts are near lakes Ruhundo and Burera. Other seriously affected areas are those around Lake Kivu and also around Lake Muhazi in Gatsibo district that we treated last year.” Another reason is neglect of the diseases.
“NTDs are never considered to be serious yet they kill in the long run and cause improper growth, change attitudes, affects knowledge of school going children.”
The survey points out that some of the activities like swimming, fishing and water collection of contaminated water cause the rapid spread of NTDs.
“The risk factors associated with schistosomiasis [bilharzia] were swimming, fishing, and collecting water for household use from the lakes. For all children with S. mansion infection, 70 percent of them reported swimming while 25 percent reported fishing in a lake,” read the survey.
The survey continues, “When asked about the main source of water used in their households, 91percent of the children with S. nansion infection reported using water from the local wells, lakes or rivers.”
Eugene Ruberanziza, a Research and Treatment coordinator with Access Project revealed that according to last year’s survey done countrywide on Bilharzias, 43 percent of the population was found to be affected.
Access Project is an international management organisation started in 2002 by Josh Ruxin, an American public health expert and CEO Rob Glaser for the effective management and distribution of the global fund for the treatment of the malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.
World Health Organisation (WHO) is one of the major donors.
Kayumba said that the high prevalence of NTDs was partly due to the incomplete health checkups by health personnel.
Recently Prof. Michael Kramer, Director General explained that the reason behind the name NTDs is Trac-plus because they were never given donor attention and funding compared to other diseases.
The survey on STH reads, “Parasitic infections, particularly intestinal helminthes are the cause of thousands of avoidable deaths each year and are among the world’s most common infectious diseases. We are training health officials, community leaders to know how to administer the drug directly to deal with NTDs.”
Experts advise that the best way to eradicate NTDs is by ensuring high standards of hygiene, such as boiling drinking water, covering food and washing hands.