BY PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA, Abuja
Schistosomiasis is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). It is a parasitic disease caused by parasitic worms that can cause acute and chronic infection.
It can be contracted through contaminated food and water.
The deputy director/programme manager, Schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis Elimination Programme, Dr. Obiageli Nebe, said though neglected, Schistosomiasis and STH cause chronic infections and infants and children are prone to the infections due to their less developed immune system, experts revealed.
Nebe said symptoms of these worm infections include: diarrhoea, bloody stool, anaemia, stunted growth, enlarged liver and spleen, severe damage to the liver leading to liver fibrosis, portal hypertension.
The risk factors include walking barefoot (hookworm), ingestion of eggs in contaminated food or from contaminated hands, poor sanitary infrastructure, and inadequate water supply, she said.
According to the Nigeria’s National baseline mapping report (2017), a total of 139,645,032 people live in schistosomiasis at-risk areas. 41,033,925 SAC & 1,396,203 Adults require mass treatment (WHO & FMOH treatment guidelines) 582 local government areas (LGAs) are endemic. 279 LGAs require once in years treatment and 294 LGAs requiring once a year treatment while 10 high risk LGAs require treatment for school age children and adults, said Nebe.
On prevention, Nebe said this can be achieved by wearing shoes, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the latrine and before eating, proper food preparation and storage, filtering or treating contaminated drinking water, and keeping schools and households feces free.
“These parasites are known to have detrimental impact on child health as they deplete nutrients in children and adversely affect physical and cognitive development, causing symptoms such as abdominal pain, anaemia, bladder, liver diseases and other health problems which impair growth, reduced school attendance with poor learning outcome,” she explained.
With Nigeria having the highest burden of tropical diseases in Africa, Nebe said massive deworming exercise has been initiated in the country.
Stressing the importance of the exercise, she said worms are harmful to children’s health, education, growth, and development, stating that deworming can improve children’s school participation, growth, and nutritional intake.
“Deworming tablets improve health, appetite, and energy levels, reduce school absenteeism, and improve the learning ability of children,” she said.