Just like many other diseases, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD’s), have a devastating impact on poor developing countries due to bad living conditions caused by poverty, ignorance and limited access to medication.
Health experts cite some of the diseases, as including: leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminths, and trachoma.
They say most of these diseases are little known in industrialized countries; but together they result in major socio-economic disruptions, in the world’s poorest countries - resulting in billions of dollars of lost productivity.
Rwanda’s brutal past of the 1994 genocide left a deep scar that could be felt in all the key sectors of her economy particularly the health delivery one, further compounding the challenge of dealing with the threat of NTD’s.
The Ministry of health is not alone in the improvement of people’s health; there are many efforts in place that give hope to vulnerable groups.
One major challenge in fighting the disease is the lack of strategic knowledge on it, in terms of identifying symptoms when sick with those at risk not knowing how they can fight it.
In Rwanda, according to research conducted by the International non-governmental organization, Access Project, last year, in eight districts, 64% of Rwandans suffer from diseases transmitted through soils, while 27% have bilharzia. In Musanze and Burera districts alone 90% of the residents have worms.
In this regard, Access Project then launched a campaign against NTD’s in the rural areas, aimed at combating diseases like intestinal worms, Ankylostome, eye diseases; trachoma, bilharzia among others. It targeted the most vulnerable lake-side residents of L. Burera and Ruhondo.
Adding onto the efforts to fight the diseases, the new Ambassador of the Global Network for NTD’s Ambassador Tommy Thompson did not hesitate to promise continuing support to the improvement to the health of Rwandans by fighting NTD’s. He believes that improvement in the health of a country’s population automatically leads to economic development.
“We base this on a survey conducted in Japan after the Second World War where the elimination of such tropical diseases led to tremendous development,” explained Thompson, adding, “we pledged to foster close cooperation between Rwandans and Americans in continuing to improve the health of Rwandans especially in fighting neglected tropical diseases.”
As part of increasing the efforts in the fight against NTD’s, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, partnered with the Rwandan government, to mitigate the suffering and death caused by neglected tropical diseases NTD’s.
Thompson, who also met with President Paul Kagame, acknowledged the government’s efforts in reviving the health outlook of all Rwandans during the post-genocidal era.
In the process of fighting the disease,, Ambassador Thompson also visited the Rwesero Primary School and its Health Center in Gucumbi District (Northern Province) to witness the de-worming campaign against intestinal worms and schistosomiasis, which is a challenge to the nationals for their added efforts.
Thompson says they were in the school to provide school going children with drugs, against intestinal worms and schistosomiasis so that they can be in good health.
“If you need good performance at school, to be rich and participate in the development of your country, then you have to be in good health,” he points out.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Access Project administered drugs (Albendazole and Praziquatel) against intestinal worms and schistosomiasis to over 5 million people in the national de-worming campaign which was part of the interventions of the Mother-Child Health week which took place from 19-22nd August 2008.
The Northern Province has the country’s highest overall intestinal worm’s prevalence rate of 83.1% and the highest schistosomiasis prevalence was found in Gicumbi District at 69.5%.
Ambassador Thompson explains that apart from his work of continued contribution to improving the health of Rwandans, he will work together with Rwandan authorities to attract US investors and tourists to the country.
According to health experts, recognizing that multiple voices calling for the world’s attention are more effective than singular, disjointed efforts, the various disease programs aimed at controlling or eliminating these diseases have come together to form the Neglected Tropical Disease Coalition (NTDC).
The NTDC provides a unique opportunity for collaborative advocacy activities in industrialized countries while member organizations also explore co-ordination, or integration of disease treatment and prevention activities in endemic countries.
Open to all interested parties, the NTDC is composed of individual disease alliances, international agencies, corporate partners, academic institutions, faith-based groups, and non-governmental organizations.
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recently identified these diseases as ‘targets of opportunity’ in the effort to improve global health, health experts point out.