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Sightsavers from the field

Reducing stigma in communities while fighting NTDs

August 2020
A man sits in an office wearing a face covering

Thanks to support from Sightsavers and partners, Mr Alabi and his team provide NTD treatments and services to more than four million people across Kogi State annually.

Kogi State is near the centre of Nigeria and is home to more than 4,000 communities across 21 local government areas. The Kogi State NTD unit provides services to these communities to support the control and elimination of four neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are known to be endemic in the state: river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and intestinal worms.

Mr Alabi has been the Kogi State NTD coordinator since March 2015 and has been supporting the Ascend West and Central Africa programme since it began in 2019. The UK aid-funded programme aims to make major progress towards the elimination of the four diseases in 13 countries, including Nigeria, by providing more than 300 million treatments across three years.

On days when Mr Alabi is in the office, you will often find him working hard planning consultations, advocacy opportunities or the coordination of treatment to ensure that it is available to all communities for annual distribution. When he is not in the office, he can be found working out in the nearby communities supporting volunteer training and monitoring and supervising project activities.

Over 59 million
treatments delivered in year one of Ascend

“Fieldwork in Kogi State is very interesting as it is a mix of the good, bad, and the ugly. There are many encouraging and discouraging scenarios. We work in very remote communities and it feels good to provide services to the people who live there,” he says.

“I am particularly excited about working in the NTD sector because I know I am contributing to the elimination of diseases that affect people physically, mentally and socially. For example, river blindness, which if left untreated can cause irreversible blindness, is endemic in all areas of the state.”

However, thanks to the efforts of people like Mr Alabi, elimination in Nigeria is possible. In the first year of the Ascend West and Central Africa programme, some areas of Nigeria have already reduced disease prevalence below the World Health Organization (WHO) elimination thresholds, meaning mass treatment campaigns in those areas can stop. For example, the Nigerian Ministry of Health announced that the transmission of river blindness has been interrupted in Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna states.

While there is still work to be done in Kogi State to reach the thresholds, Mr Alabi’s leadership has made great improvements to increase awareness about NTDs in the communities. One example is by airing jingles about NTDs during radio shows where they have discussions about NTD control, prevention, symptoms and patient care. These radio shows also help to raise awareness of annual mass treatment campaigns across the communities.

Mr Alabi has also supported the Ascend West and Central Africa programme to become more inclusive by training members of the community, some of which have a disability, to be health workers and volunteers to help with distributing medication, which will help strengthen health systems in the long term.

In the first year of the programme:

Children celebrate at school leading up to the one billionth NTD treatment.

Banishing river blindness in Kaduna

We have been working in endemic areas to ensure everyone can live without fear of infection.

Read the story
Over 115,000
community volunteers were trained in Nigeria
Over 15,000
health workers were trained in Nigeria
Over 4,000
case finders were trained in Nigeria

The involvement of people with disabilities in Kogi State is another great success and is helping to reduce discrimination and stigma against people with disabilities and highlights how they can contribute to society.

One volunteer is Joseph Uloko, from the Abejucolo community in the Omala area of Kogi State. Joseph has a disability and is a proud leader in his community. When he heard people with disabilities were being included in the community’s NTD programme, he quickly volunteered to help distribute treatment.

A community volunteer with a disability gives a woman treatment for NTDs.
Community volunteer Joseph Uloko gives a woman treatment to protect her from NTDs.

“It gives me great joy to help my community and on a small scale be able to look out for other people with disabilities and make sure they are also receiving treatment to protect themselves against NTDs,” states Joseph.

When asked if there was any negative reaction from people when he was administering treatment he said there was none.

Prior to the effort of Mr Alabi and his team to include people with disabilities, most communities had social and cultural biases towards disability. This is now reduced and people with disabilities have a renewed sense of importance in the community. Mr Alabi says: “I have a wonderful team both at the state and local government levels. I thank God for our community volunteers who are very resilient and I’m thankful for those who have served the programme over the years. The successes we have made are a result of the team capacity.”

A group of people stand together for a photo

“Together we will beat NTDs in Kogi State, Nigeria and the world at large.”

A group of people stand together for a photo

Find out more about our work to treat neglected diseases

Fighting disease

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