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Trachoma treatments resume in Nigeria after COVID-19 lockdown

September 2020
A volunteer drug distributor washing hands washes someone's hands.

Nigeria has become the first Sightsavers-supported country to resume work on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) since April.

At the time, the threat of COVID-19 led the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend suspending mass treatment campaigns, but it has since provided guidance on restarting activities safely. Further campaigns, which have been adapted to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, will start in other African countries soon.

Around one million people in the northwestern state of Jigawa received antibiotics to treat blinding trachoma – one of the five NTDs Sightsavers works to eliminate – between mid-July and the start of September. Other campaigns have since started in Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states.

Trachoma is a painful and infectious eye condition which, if not treated, can cause visual impairment and irreversible blindness. It affects millions of people living in poor and rural communities around the world. Antibiotics treat the infection and stop it from spreading.

Before supporting the resumption of treatments in Nigeria, Sightsavers and partners conducted a rigorous assessment process in line with WHO guidance. Now health ministries in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal, Zanzibar and Zimbabwe are working with Sightsavers and partners to conduct similar assessments in the hope of resuming NTD activities in the coming months.

Young girl's eye is examined for trachoma

Accelerating trachoma elimination

Nigeria is one of the countries where the Accelerate programme is working to make significant progress towards trachoma elimination.

About Accelerate

Adapting treatment distribution for COVID-19

To mitigate COVID risks, trained local volunteers go from house to house rather than distributing medicine to large groups in a central location as they used to do before the pandemic. They also observe strict guidelines on social distancing, hygiene, protective equipment and other safety measures outlined by the national government and the WHO.

In Nigeria, a Command and Control Centre has also been established to monitor and respond to COVID-19 trends in the areas where treatment is being provided.

Mohammed Adamu Abdullahi, who was one of 1,700 trained volunteers giving out the treatments, was pleased with the campaign: “Distribution has really gained acceptability from people. This is because… people were fully informed even before we went. There were some people that were waiting for us there. They wanted us to go and give them the medication.”

Simon Bush, director of neglected tropical diseases at Sightsavers, said: “COVID-19 has led to unprecedented public health measures that have affected all areas of healthcare. But from the moment NTD activities paused we have been working hard to find ways to restart programmes quickly and safely – and in Nigeria we are seeing the first programme resume.

“Neglected tropical diseases affect some of the most marginalised communities in the world, and restarting mass NTD treatments shows they have not been forgotten. The incredible efforts being made in many African countries right now will ensure the gains that have been made to control and eliminate NTDs in recent years will not be lost due to COVID-19.”

The treatment distribution is part of the five-year Accelerate trachoma elimination programme, which aims to eliminate trachoma as a public health risk, or make significant progress towards trachoma elimination goals, in 14 African countries by 2023.

Sightsavers Nigeria provided technical support to the ministry of health for the campaign in Jigawa state, in collaboration with CBM and implementing partner HANDS.

“From the moment NTD activities paused we have been working hard to find ways to restart programmes quickly and safely.”

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