Bono, Ahafo grappling with neglected tropical diseases - 3 NGOs launch project to assist fight spread
Some Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are still endemic in some communities in the Bono and Ahafo regions, as they continue to record fresh cases, despite investment made by the government to eliminate or control the diseases.
The common NTDs which the two regions are battling with include elephantiasis, asonchocerciasis, yaws, schistosomiasis, leprosy and leishmaniasis, among others.
The diseases are common in the Sunyani West Municipality, the Tain District and some parts of the Banda District in the Bono Region, as well as the Asunafo North Municipality in the Ahafo Region.
In the Tain District, the diseases are common in farming communities such as Arkokrom, Badu-Drobo, Njau-Tanoso, Asuafu, Menji, Munamunaso Ahyiakrom, Akore, Sokolo and Awompiin.
In the Sunyani West Municipality, some of the communities are Kobedi, Limankrom, Canada, Mantukwa, Dumasua, Bofourkrom, Aprakukrom, Wabrease, Asantefosereso and Nkranketewa.
NGOs join fight
In a bid to complement the government’s efforts to eliminate NTDs, three non-governmental organisations have launched a two-year project in the Bono and Ahafo.
The NGOs are Global Media Foundation (GloMeF), Indigenous Women Empowerment Network (IWEN) and Tim Africa Aid Ghana (TAAG).
The project is dubbed: "Community Integration and System Strengthening Project (CISSP) Against Skin Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)" and sponsored by ANESVAD Foundation.
The main goal of the project is to help reduce morbidity, disability and the psychosocial impacts of skin NTDs and other skin diseases through a people-centred integrated approach.
In addition, the project will concentrate on the control, elimination and eradication of skin NTDs, with intensified and innovative disease management, considering not only the medical aspects, but a whole series of environmental, social and economic determinants with an emphasis on improving water and sanitation conditions.
The objective of the project is to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable people by fighting and preventing most prevalent skin-NTDs such as buruli ulcer, leprosy, yaws, cutaneous leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and lymphatic filariasis.
This is to emphasise on treatment through innovative and intensified disease management (IDM-NTDs) and provide support to people suffering from the disease, their families and their communities.
The project is also expected to build the capacity, improve the knowledge and skills of health workers such as clinicians and about 30 community volunteers to help them identify and manage skin NTDs and ensure early detection, surveillance, referral diagnoses and linkage to care.
The project has targeted the identification of more than 150 skin affected persons for treatment and providing them with employable skills to empower them economically and increase their livelihood opportunities, in order to help them live a dignified life.
It would also provide capacity training for 60 community volunteers and counsellors to provide community surveillance, including case screening, monitoring and reporting, mental health counselling against stigma and discrimination.
A skin-NTD person from the Tain District
As part of the project, the NGOs are expected to establish three rehabilitation centres to provide appropriate integrated care and rehabilitation services for persons affected by skin-NTD associated morbidity, disability and stigmatisation.
The project is also expected to train about 300 community stakeholders and family heads to help affected persons to be accepted by their community members and allow them to perform their normal key roles without discrimination.
Additionally, the NGOs are to identity 300 women as women support groups (WSG), empower them as community agents of change, advocating against NTDs stigma and discrimination.
They are also expected to establish and train Water and Sanitation Committees (WATSAN) as sanitation improvement agents in 10 communities and construct six toilet facilities in six endemic communities, to improve sanitation and hygiene services.
A victim of an NTD from the Tain District
Speaking to the Daily Graphic at the launch of the project in Sunyani in the Bono Region, the Chief Executive Officer of GloMeF, Raphael Godlove Ahenu, said NTDs had affected about 1.7 billion people globally.
He said NTDs had long-term consequences including permanent disability, physical impairment, stigmatisation, socio-economic problems and mental health consequences, resulting in a reduction in the quality of life.
Mr Ahenu said skin NTDs were associated with poor socio-economic development and marginalisation and explained that people living in low and rural communities were prone to the NTDs.
He said NTDs impeded progress on nearly all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and had multiple negative impacts on the health sector and an acute toll on the most vulnerable populations.
Mr Ahenu said the diseases which were debilitating and stigmatising were of immense public health significance in the country, as they affected all the 16 regions of the country.
He explained that the country had made great progress in the fight against NTDs over the years.
Mr Ahenu said since 2015, the county had successfully eliminated Guinea worm and trachoma with significant reduction in the prevalence of onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis and schistosomiasis (SCH).
He said notwithstanding the performance in eliminating NTDs and the decline in some skin diseases, more efforts were needed to eliminate them, particularly buruli ulcer, yaws and lymphatic filariasis.
Mr Ahenu said as at 2019, about 114 out of the 260 districts were endemic of lymphatic filariasis.
He said between 2013 and 2016, 2,3347 clinical yaws cases were reported from 134 districts, and 5,754 cases of buruli ulcer were reported in Ghana, with a gradual decline in the number of cases believed to be underestimated due to the weak local level surveillance and neglected nature of the conditions.
Mr Ahenu said efforts directed to reach the targeted people at the district level had faced serious challenges as a result of weak surveillance systems and resources.
The Tain District Officer of Disease Control, Philip Yeboah, said some of the diseases such as onchocerciasis, yaws and schistosomiasis were very common and tormenting some vulnerable communities in the area.
He said if measures were not put in place to curb the situation, it would spread to affect many people.
Mr Yeboah said onchocerciasis, which was common in the district, could lead to total blindness, if care was not taken to cure it.
He said yaws was also very common among school-age children in the area, distracting the attention of pupils and students, leading to poor performance in schools.
He stated that schistosomiasis or blood in urine was also common in the district, explaining that the disease was common among schoolchildren, because they swam in some rivers.
Mr Yeboah said fighting NTDs needed a collaborative effort from the public such as the NGOs partnering the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to eliminate it.
He said the public had not paid much attention to NTDs, explaining that they were silent killers and had permanent effects on affected persons.
Mr Yeboah said the GHS and its partners over the years had been organising mass drugs distribution exercises to provide drugs to control or eliminate the diseases in the area.
He said the project had come at the right time and expressed the hope that the project would help reduce NTDs in the area.
He called for more sponsorship to help eliminate the diseases in the district and the country as a whole.
He appealed to the NGOs to extend the project period to enable them to cover more communities in the area.
Since NTDs are formally recognised as targets for global action in SDG target 3.3, which calls to “end the epidemics of the diseases” by 2030, as part of Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and ensure well-being for all at all ages), it is crucial for the government and other stakeholders to intensify their fight against NTDs to meet the target.
NTDs are a group of infectious diseases that prevail in tropical and sub-tropical regions, affecting impoverished populations living in conditions of poor sanitation and in close contact with infectious vectors and livestock.
Over the years, various governments have made frantic effects and introduced several interventions to help eliminate or control the NTDs in the country.
One of such interventions is the mass distribution of NTDs drugs, particularly to people in the endemic areas.
Because of the devastating nature of the NTDs, the World Health Organisation, in 2002, instituted NTDs Day to be celebrated on January 30 every year, to create awareness of the devastating impact of NTDs on the poorest populations around the world.
The day is also an opportunity to call on everyone to support the growing momentum for the control, elimination and eradication of these diseases.
Despite the efforts, NTDs are still endemic in the country, particularly in the Bono and Ahafo regions.
Out of a list of 14 NTDs prevalent locally, the country has managed to eliminate trachoma, an infection of the eye, and guinea worm.
Currently, the country is battling with the remaining 12 NTDs, namely, Lymphatic Filariasis (elephantiasis), Onchocerciasis (Oncho or river blindness), Schistosomiasis (bilharzia), soil-transmitted helminthiasis (hookworm), Buruli Ulcer and Yaws (a chronic infection that affects mainly the skin bone and cartilage).
Others are leprosy, leishmaniasis (transmitted by the bite of sandflies), trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and rabies, which is transmitted to humans through bites of non-vaccinated dogs.