By Foday Moriba Conteh
The Ministry of Health, through its National Neglected Tropical Diseases Program (NNDTP), in collaboration with Helen Keller International and supported by the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Act to End Neglected Tropical Diseases Program, celebrated World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Day on Tuesday, 30th January, 2024, with a focus on the theme: “Unite. Act. Eliminate.”
The commemoration commenced with a symbolic walk, titled “Waka for Don Away with Blen Yai en Bigfut,” from Aberdeen Roundabout to the Gulf Club on the Lumley Axis in Freetown. Following the walk, a high-level meeting with key stakeholders took place at the Freetown Golf Club on Lumley Beach Road in Freetown.
Dr. Ibrahim Kargbo-Labour, Neglected Tropical Diseases Program Manager at the Ministry of Health, addressed the attendees, emphasizing the impact of NTDs on impoverished communities due to limited access to quality healthcare, safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. Globally, over 1.5 billion people, particularly in tropical regions, are affected by NTDs, resulting in more than 200,000 annual fatalities.
This year’s World NTD Day theme, “Unite. Act. Eliminate,” underscored the call for collective action to eliminate NTDs. Dr. Kargbo-Labour shared Sierra Leone’s endemic status for Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, Schistosomiasis, and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis, highlighting significant progress in enhancing Mass Drug Administration in 15 out of 16 districts for Lymphatic Filariasis.
After rounds of Mass Drug Administration, the impact prevalence of Schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis was reported to be less than 20%. Dr. Kargbo-Labour set ambitious targets for the elimination and control of these diseases, aiming for Lymphatic Filariasis by 2025, Onchocerciasis by 2030 and sustained control of Schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis by 2030.
Dr. Kargbo-Labour concluded by introducing Sr. Ekundayo Karim, the NTD Program Supervisor, expressing gratitude for attendees’ time and urging continued collaboration in the fight against NTDs.
Following Dr. Kargbo-Labour, Dr. Brima Osaio Kamara, the Director of Primary Health Care at the Ministry of Health, highlighted Sierra Leone’s achievements in eliminating Elephantiasis, Onchocerciasis, Schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminths.
He showcased the success of Mass Drug Administration, reaching over 5.2 million eligible individuals, with 500,000 School Age Children receiving treatment for Schistosomiasis annually.
Dr. Kamara emphasized the importance of addressing the sustainability of NTD programming amidst diminishing donor funds. The Sierra Leone NTD sustainability plan is underway, incorporating NTD priorities into routine planning, financing, service delivery, and monitoring. NTDs have been integrated into strategic government policy documents, ensuring successful implementation of Universal Health Coverage.
Victoria Turay, Neglected Tropical Diseases Program Manager at Helen Keller International, expressed honor in participating in the global initiative against NTDs, stating that Sierra Leone, with support from USAID through Helen Keller International, has made remarkable progress, targeting the elimination of Lymphatic filariasis, control of Soil Transmitted Helminthes, and Schistosomiasis by 2030.
Turay highlighted the success of stopping Mass treatment against lymphatic filariasis in 15 out of 16 districts, with almost 5.5 million Sierra Leoneans receiving treatment for river blindness over the past 17 years.
She stressed the need for effective cross-sector coordination and integration to address inequities in access to healthcare services for those affected by NTDs.
Turay concluded with gratitude to USAID, the NTD workforce, and community stakeholders for their relentless efforts. She urged everyone to unite, act, and eliminate NTDs in Sierra Leone, quoting Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Representing the US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Bryan David Hunt, Dayo Spencer Walters, the Acting Health Officer Director at USAID, highlighted the achievements in eliminating neglected tropical diseases. Walters discussed collaborative efforts with the Sierra Leone government and other partners, emphasizing a five-year sustainability plan to mainstream NTD diagnosis and treatment into routine health services.
Despite global disruptions from Ebola and COVID-19, Walters acknowledged the US Government’s provision of over 125 million treatments for NTDs in Sierra Leone, significantly reducing cases of blindness due to onchocerciasis.
Walters reaffirmed the US Government’s commitment to collaborating with stakeholders to control and eliminate NTDs in Sierra Leone. She stressed the importance of strategic partnerships and diverse resources to accelerate WHO’s 2030 NTD goals and the Sustainable Development Agenda.
The National Neglected Tropical Adviser at World Health Organization, Dr. Louisa Ganda, and a representative from Africa CDC also made statements at the ceremony.