The long term effects of some infectious diseases have reportedly increased the economic burden placed on many vulnerable persons, especially women and children.
One of such impoverishing infections according to experts is the blinding Trachoma, a neglected tropical disease that has mostly ravaged communities in northern Nigeria.
Trachoma is one of the major causes of blindness triggered by the bacterium Chlamydia Trachomatis and rapidly spread by flies as well as human contact, the World Health Organization says.
A recent estimate by the global health agency shows Trachoma is only responsible for about 3% of blindness in Nigeria but has remained highly prevalent in the northern parts.
Although preventable, an eye specialist, Dr Nicholas Olobio says the infection can scar the inside of the eyelids and damage the cornea, leading to blindness (trichiasis), if not treated early.
He explains ‘‘Trachoma can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact when an infected person rubs their eyes, the bacteria is transferred to their hands, they can then transfer the bacteria to someone else when shaking hands and the second person can infect themselves by rubbing their own eyes.
For years, Hussaina has begged for alms in traffics around Gwarimpa, she is blind and holds onto her little boy when approaching cars.
She fled insurgency on the back of a truck to an Abuja IDP camp but resorted to begging after going blind.
Hussaina may have survived insurgency but visual impairment further impoverished her quality of life.
‘’My eyes used to pain and scratch me in our village, it was bringing out water and my eyes swell up. I used to see a little before we ran to Abuja, but after some time, I couldn’t see again, she explained in Hausa’’.
No one can say for sure what caused Hussaina’s blindness as she was never diagnosed but her local government, Bungudu in Zamfara State is listed among those endemic for Trachoma by the federal health ministry.
Dr Olobio says the disease disproportionately affects children and women and is associated with poverty and characterized by overcrowding, dirty environment, poor personal hygiene and lack of diagnosis.
Nigeria’s health ministry says the country is now the fourth most endemic nation for trachoma globally, after Ethiopia, DRC and Cote d’Ivoire with LGA’s in Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara actively affected.
Dr Olobio who manages the National Trachoma Elimination program for the federal government says the number of people at risk of trachoma globally reduced to 137 million in March 2020 from the 1.5 billion it was in 2002.
‘‘At inception, about 30 million persons were at risk of going blind from trachoma in Nigeria but the risk has now been brought down to about 5 million, a reduction of 83%.
He says the reduction was achieved following advocacy and implementation of WASH interventions, conducting surveillance surveys and performing Trichiasis surgeries.
The target of the government is to reduce the active form of the disease to less than five percent in children aged 1-9years and suppress the prevalence of the blinding stage of the infection to less than zero point two percent (0.2%), Dr Olobio informed.
But first, it must deal with insecurity in regions most affected to treat more people, complete mapping of LGAs not yet reached and address the delay in the arrival of Zithromax, the drug of choice for Trachoma.