Mr Ehanire emphasised that Noma disease results in severe facial disfigurement known as “the face of poverty”, as the victims go into hiding, due to discrimination and stigma.
Nigeria, on Tuesday, at the 75th World Health Assembly, sought the addition of Noma disease, otherwise known as cancrum-oris, to the World Health Organisation’s list of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD).
Noma is a disease that destroys mucous membranes of the mouth and other tissues.
It is said to be rampant among malnourished children in an environment with poor sanitation.
Speaking at the fourth plenary session, Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire, said Noma is an infectious disease of the “poor and malnourished that eats away soft and hard tissue of the mouth and face.”
He said the disease results in severe facial disfigurement known as “the face of poverty”, adding that the victims go into hiding due to discrimination and stigma.
“The inclusion of Noma to the NTDs’ register, where it rightfully belongs, will bring global support to the request for its elimination, starting with preventive and curative measures for afflicted persons,” he said.
NTDs in Nigeria
According to WHO, NTDs are a diverse group of 20 conditions that are mainly prevalent in tropical areas, where they mostly affect more than 1 billion people who live mostly in impoverished communities.
They are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins. These diseases cause devastating health, social and economic consequences to more than one billion people.
In August 2021, Nigeria’s national coordinator of NTDs, Nse Akpan, disclosed that the country is still confronted by the challenges posed by 14 out of the 20 NTDs listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Mr Akpan linked the development to the poor culture of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) that is practised among many communities across the country.
He also identified 15 of these diseases in Nigeria including Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis), Soil-Transmitted Helminthiasis (STH), Onchocerciasis (River blindness), Trachoma (Granular Conjunctivitis) and Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia).
Others are Rabbies, Leprosy, Yaws, Snakebites, Leishmaniasis, Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), Mycetoma and Fascioliasis.
Mr Akpan said all states in Nigeria are endemic to one or more NTDs and that 122 million people, which is equivalent to 2 out of every 3 Nigerians are at risk of the disease.
Improved health system
Speaking further at the plenary session, Mr Ehanire spoke on the Nigerian government’s effort to build a better health care system for its citizens.
He said: “Universal Health Coverage, anchored on a robust primary health care system is an equitable, inclusive, and cost-effective path to population health and is a cornerstone of Nigeria’s health reforms.
“Relevant infrastructure and adequate human resources for health are critical to our journey.”
He added that the government has revitalised about 4000 of nearly 10,000 planned primary health care centres based on a new design that enables service around the clock by adding staff quarters, sources of safe water and reliable electricity for primary health care centres.
Emergency service and other progress
On emergency medical service, Mr Ehanire said the critical gap in Nigeria’s healthcare architecture will be bridged with the establishment of a national emergency medical service and ambulance system.
“The service will render medical emergency help to those who need it, where they need it and at no cost, out of pocket at the point of service,” he said.
Speaking on eradication of polio, he said Nigeria achieved poliovirus free status, which was so declared in April in August 2020, adding that Nigeria became the first country to introduce the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2) in response to Circulating Variant Polio Virus type 2 (cVPV2) outbreaks.
On Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), he said: “We have made progress in the UN AIDS targets with 93 per cent of HIV positive people knowing their status, 96 of those on antiretroviral therapy, and 89 achieving viral suppression.
“Viral hepatitis and STI are integrated into HIV control activities,” he added.
For non-communicable diseases, he noted: “Nigeria is currently conducting an NCD survey to advise optimal prevention or control strategies and addressing policy issues and interventions on maternal neonatal child and adolescent health plus nutrition, as well as promoting mental health.”
About World Health Assembly
The WHA is the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The main function of the assembly is to determine the policies of the organisation, appoint the director-general, supervise financial policies and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
The ongoing weeklong WHA is themed: “Health for Peace, Peace for Health.”
At this year’s assembly, the first five-year tenure of the incumbent director-general will end, and he has been nominated for reelection by an appropriate organ of the global body.
Other vice-presidents from various countries and chairmen for various relevant committees, will also be elected at the forum, which ends on Saturday.
Ahmed Abdilleh, minister of health of Djibouti, was on Sunday elected the President of this year’s assembly.to primary health care. child survival has improved dramatically over the past 20 years.”