Dr. Mwele Ntuli Malecela

Donors, international organizations and other health development partners have showered Tanzania with accolades for the great strides that it has made in a quest to control Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) advisor for NTDs, Ms Angela Weaver, speaking on behalf of donors, applauded Tanzania through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) for being one of Africa’s role models in NTD control.

NTDs that are endemic to Tanzania include river blindness (Onchocerciasis), elephantiasis (Lymphatic filariasis or LF), bilharzias or snail fever (Schistosomiasis), intestinal worm infection (soil-transmitted helminthiasis) and a  bacterial infection of the eye also known as Trachoma.

The Neglected Tropical Diseases Control Programme National Coordinator, Dr Upendo Mwingira, said that NTDs affect many regions in the country and it is estimated that over 40 million are affected with more than three diseases being present in each region.
Dr Mwingira said that since the programme was started, their biggest challenge has been getting the people to trust the drugs.

Many associate them with interfering with fertility as well as encouraging people with illness signs to visit centres and make use of the numerous campaigns that are carried out.  Unlike other diseases, NTDs in previous years wasn’t given much attention because they don’t cause many mortalities but in recent years it has been determined that blindness, worm infection and physical disabilities halt economic development as resources are diverted to care and treatment for the sick.

“Tanzania has demonstrated a remarkable job despite the challenges that exist and has gone far in delivering drugs for the treatment of millions. Next week there will be a large global meeting in London and Tanzania will be a part of it which I know will share its experiences with others,” Ms Weaver said.

A representative from Mectizan Donation Programme, Dr Kisito Ougoussan, when echoing the words of Ms Weaver, said that NTD control had been successful largely because of the strong partnership that the country has with its partners. Dr Ougoussan cautioned that whilst the five-year Master Plan is being prepared, it is important not to forget the challenges associated with the supply chain of drugs and urged that medical professionals also had to be logisticians.

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare yesterday hosted its third stakeholders’ meeting that brought together development partners, international organizations, regional and district medical offices to talk about its successes in controlling NTDs and the challenges they face.

Speaking at the opening, the National Institute of Medical Research Director General, Dr Mwele Malecela, who spoke on behalf of the MOHSW Permanent Secretary, Ms Blandina Nyoni, said that the success should not bring about complacency. Previously NTDs were being controlled through individual projects but this changed since 2009 after adopting the integrated control approach.

In 2010, a total of 36 districts were administered with drugs and in 2011 this was scaled up to 76 districts. In 2010 a total of 15.3 million treatments were distributed and 25 million in 2011. “This is a great achievement and we are proud to be among the first countries to implement the integrated approach for NTD control,” she said.

Dr Malecela said that it was not enough to protect ourselves from AIDS, TB and Malaria but at the same time be complacent when we are dying of other diseases prematurely. She said that although the challenges in communicable diseases control in this era seem to be undefeatable, there was definitely hope in Africa to face and reduce the burden and that consolidated efforts with knowledge, skills and the tools were needed to make a difference.

By MASEMBE TAMBWE, Tanzania Daily News

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