The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has started administering drugs to 5.8 million people in 13 regions against two neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) as part of efforts to limit transmission.
The two diseases are Onchocerciasis (Oncho), also known as river blindness, and Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) better known as elephantiasis.
The first of the bi-annual mass drug administration (MDA) exercise begun on July 2, this year and is expected to end on Sunday, July 16, this year.
The annual exercise is aimed at eliminating river blindness and elephantiasis by 2030 under the National Neglected Tropical Diseases Control Programme.
The exercise is on the theme: “Act now.
Invest in Neglected Tropical Diseases.”
In an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra yesterday, the Programme Manager, Dr Kofi Asemanyi-Mensah, said river blindness was endemic in 138 districts while elephantiasis could be found in 116 districts out of the country’s 261 districts.
“One key strategy employed for their intervention locally is MDA.
This is the giving of a single dose medication to all eligible individuals in the endemic population, whether sick or not,” he said.
“The non-eligible individuals include pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers with less than one week infants, and individual’s below 9.0 cm of height,” Dr Asemanyi-Mensah added.
Elephantiasis often manifests as enlargement and hardening of limbs or other body parts such as the genitals.
It is transmitted only through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito that has bitten an infected person.
River blindness is a significant cause of blindness and it is transmitted through the bites of infected blackflies.
The flies breed near fast-flowing rivers and streams.
MDAs had been conducted in the country for a considerable number of years and that had resulted in the interruption of transmission of the two diseases in many districts, the NTD Control Programme Manager said.
Dr Asemanyi-Mensah added that the drug of choice for river blindness was Ivermectin while that for elephantiasis was a combination of Ivermectin and Albendazole tablets.
He said MDAs were conducted to reduce the disease burden of “at risk populations”.
Dr Asemanyi-Mensah explained that the interruption of elephantiasis transmission had resulted in MDA being stopped in 109 endemic districts, leaving seven districts to undergo the exercise.
“For river blindness, we are currently assessing interruption of transmission in 66 districts, hence the conduct of MDA in 72 Oncho endemic districts for this year,” he said.
The programme manager indicated that although NTDs had a low mortality rate, they were often chronic, debilitating and disabling.
Dr Asemanyi-Mensah, therefore, appealed to beneficiary communities to disregard rumours that the drugs were life-threatening and rather take advantage of the exercise because the drugs were potent and very safe.
He also pleaded with the public to desist from stigmatising affected persons because everybody was vulnerable due to the mode of transmission.
Many patients hid their conditions and refused to seek medication due to stigma, Dr Asemanyi-Mensah said.
He also urged the public to adhere to preventive measures such as keeping their environments clean, avoiding open defecation, using insecticide treated mosquito nets, washing hands often under running water, among others.
“By controlling environmental factors that invite NTDs, people can reduce their risk.
For instance, eliminating areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes like to breed will reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases,” Dr Asemanyi-Mensah added.