October 4, 2023

Grace Edema

Director, Center for Transdisciplinary Research in Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases at the University of Lagos, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, tells GRACE EDEMA that the state government has important role to play in the eradication of Neglected Tropical Diseases

What are Neglected Tropical Diseases?

They are diseases that are mostly confined to tropical areas in developing countries that are not focused. They are associated with poverty as well. If a certain infrastructure is in place, some of the diseases will not be there. Even the common ones we have around is because people do not have a good place to defecate so they do that in a certain part of bushes. And they do not have water to wash their hands so they have contaminated fingers. Therefore they cannot maintain personal hygiene and good sanitation due to the lack of a water base system in their toilet. It is poverty related. If the cycle of poverty is not broken this disease will continue to exist.

Examples are Hookworm, schistosomiasis, ascariasis, snake bite, lymphatic filariasis, leprosy to mention a few.

What should be the role of government in the regions where there are high rates of Neglected Tropical Diseases?

The government is doing its part. The Federal Government is setting up policies, they are developing guidelines. The State Government should do more because that is where the disease exists. They should do more to support the implementation. Not only support, but they can also begin to fund. Annual funding will help.

Of course, they do other things like the policy. Remember for all of these diseases the action point is in the states. What is Lagos State doing? Or what is Rivers State doing? The states must be aware, not only being aware but must have the data on this disease. And they are taking it up. Working with good strategies and approaches and it is called reactive case detection; where you need to find something. If somebody has that disease and you see the person in the hospital, you will follow the person to his house and investigate and you test for all the others. To be sure that nobody else has that condition. If they have it they can be treated earlier. This means when you look at different areas we can make these interventions. Government still does policy but the government can do more.

What is your centre doing about it also?

We do research. We are part of the research and development of new diagnoses. We are also providing solutions in terms of accessing drugs for efficacy; we do that through our Ph.D research works. Working with research institutions is the cheapest. Like I am doing a high-quality diagnosis, that is, high-quality research on what is going on, and we are by this time looking for funding to help us to make sure that ideas are competitive and they are available, providing information that will be useful for this country.

If NTDs are left untreated, what is the implication generally?

The implications are devastating. Let’s assume that young children do not have access to anti-hermitic warnings, it is going to be devastating considering the effects of those diseases on children. That means you are going to have more stunted children, children that have low performance in school because these have caused it. It would have created institutional disorder among them. The higher the burden the higher the challenge.

You know in the current day world, you do not do research for research’s sake, the government will have to provide an enabling environment. Through the Federal Government, for instance, they can support the centre every year and say we will give you N5 or N10 million. And they can sponsor too.

Those are the things government can do by being enablers, and for research institutions and we are still engaging the government.

In those regions what is happening to people with some of these diseases?

Well, we have not had interventions coming, for these diseases, you cannot see them with your eyes. Long-time exposure to urinary urinalysis can lead to cancer. So it will be denigrated, bringing down all organs. What we do in a toxic situation is to communicate, it is a solution. We will do that and the community will even do more or they will ask you what should they do and form the habit of communication, not just announcing but doing something positive by listening to key messages. So for us, as an institution, is to bring all the capacity available across this same place whether it is legal, economics, or whatever you think. So that you can be able to contribute to the elimination goal of 2030.

What are the roles of academia as concerns NTDs?

Just like every research we do, research may be passive, and you can make it active research. Active research is solution-targeted research. One of the things we are doing at the Centre for Transitional Research is to go into active research that can improve the life of the people with data and with evidence. We want to know if the medicine is working or not working by the users, you will know because it will take strong research to say this part is not working and you will not continue to rely on it. The researchers, academia will do that and redirect their research. And with some of them that recalibrate solution.

Apart from active research, we can catalyse innovation, called knowledge management. We need private sectors to come so they can be part of the supply chain.

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