On 29 and 30 January 2023, government health officials and partners came together in Jimma Zone, Oromia Region, to commemorate World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day in a two-day event that included an event opening ceremony, visit to NTD, molecular and drug laboratories of Jimma University, a field trip to two woredas of Jimma Zone to observe preventive activities and NTD case management, and a panel discussion.
In line with World NTD Day theme “Act now. Act together. Invest in Neglected Tropical Diseases”, Honorable State Minister of Health Dr Dereje Duguma called for stronger political commitment to the elimination of NTDs, underscored the need to engage communities in elimination efforts, strengthen partner coordination, and increase investment in NTDs in order to achieve national and global NTD targets as set out in the Roadmap for Neglected Tropical Diseases 2021-2030: Ending the Neglect to Attain the Sustainable Development Goals.
A dozen NTDs inflict illness, disability and death on the most disadvantaged population groups in Ethiopia and negatively affect socioeconomic development. People and communities affected by NTDs are also often subject to stigmatization and isolation, becoming vulnerable to mental health problems.
Acting World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to Ethiopia, Dr Rose Dlamini, asserted that equity must be at the core of NTD programming, saying that as NTDs often affect the most vulnerable, progress in NTDs can be considered as a litmus test for Universal Health Coverage. “To ensure that everyone has equitable access to NTD services, we must invest in NTDs, continue to adopt an integrated, people-centered approach, intensify intersectoral partnerships, and evolve operating models to foster community ownership of NTD interventions,” she added.
The opening of the commemorative event served as a platform to take stock of progress and remaining challenges, and renewing the collective commitment of the government, partners, research and academia.
Visit to laboratories of Jimma University
On the first day of commemoration event participants visited the NTD Laboratory of Jimma University, which has been involved in the evaluation of a new formulation of mebendazole, which was later rolled out for the treatment of soil-transmitted helminths (STH) and donated by WHO to different countries for mass drug administration. The NTD Laboratory is one of only two in the world making such contributions – the second one being located in Uganda. The drug laboratory set the threshold for the efficacy of drugs against STH. The molecular laboratory has contributed to NTD diagnostics and continue to do so in an enhanced level using artificial intelligence-based digital technology.
Visit to Seqa Cherkosa school health activities and Shebe Sombo Health Centre
On 30 January, the delegates led by Honorable Minister Dr Dereje Duguma visited school health activities at Seqa Chekorsa and NTD management at Shebe Sombo Health Centre. At the Health Centre, the delegates observed eyelid surgery to treat trachomatous trichiasis (TT) and talked to post-operative patients that were on follow up at the centre.
Graphs that showed impressive increasing trends of mass drug administration (MDA) coverage in the health centre’s catchment area for treatment of trachoma, soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH), onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis were displayed. The visiting delegation also saw management of lymphoedema patients at Shebe Sombo Health Centre. Health officers were washing, massaging and moisturizing the feet and legs of patients, teaching patients on foot hygiene and foot care at home for the three months until their next follow up, and providing them with hygiene supplies. Some patients that had been on follow up earlier attested to observing improvement in their condition since coming to the health centre.
These visits were powerful demonstrations of how NTDs affect the most vulnerable, and how political will, multisectoral action and investment can help restore the health, wellbeing and dignity of affected populations.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Ethiopia.