As NTD progress improves, Niger celebrates USAID’s billionth global NTD treatment

September 16th, 2014

At a ceremony hosted by the Ministry of Public Health on August 13, 2014, Niger celebrated its partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the national fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and honored the local unsung heroes that have been instrumental in delivering preventive medicines to Niger’s citizens.

Niger NTD hero Mr. Sani Bokoye receives certificate from US Deputy Mission Chief Richard Bell

Niger NTD hero Mr. Sani Bokoye receives a certificate from US Deputy Mission Chief Richard Bell for his work with the NTD program with at-risk populations. Photo: HKI

USAID, which this year celebrates the delivery of the billionth global NTD treatment provided with its support, first partnered with Niger in 2007, to work toward the elimination of lymphatic filariasis and blinding from onchocerciasis and trachoma, as well as to control schistosomiasis and intestinal worms.

The USAID-funded, FHI360-administered END in Africa project, through its sub-grantee Helen Keller International, has organized annual mass distribution of medications throughout Niger against five NTDs since 2010. In total, USAID has enabled the provision of over 115 million NTD treatments in Niger since it began supporting the country in 2007.

These treatments have significantly reduced the prevalence in Niger of all five NTDs, which once were endemic in almost every district in the country, and have enabled the country to become a leader in trachoma elimination in the African region.

Niger Secretary General of the Ministry of Public Health Mahamadou Idrissa Maiga has said that neglected tropical diseases tend to affect the poor, who generally have limited purchasing power or political influence, greatly diminishing their quality of life and even shortening their lifespans.

“If left untreated, these diseases lead to deadly complications such as infertility, blindness, elephantiasis, kidney failure and even death of the person affected,” said the Secretary General during his speech at the August 13th ceremony.

Secretary General of the Niger Ministry of Health Dr. Mahamadou Idrissa Maiga

Secretary General of the Niger Ministry of Health Dr. Mahamadou Idrissa Maiga speaks at the USAID billionth NTD treatment celebration in Niamey, with Deputy Coordinator for the National Eye Care Program Dr. Kadri (far right), current Acting Coordinator of the NTD program (2nd to right) and National Coordinator of the Schistosomiasis Program Dr. Gnandou. Photo: HKI

Niger is one of twenty-five countries that are supported under USAID’s NTD program. USAID helps countries fight against NTDs by funding projects such as END in Africa, which helps countries manage and implement nationwide mass drug administration (MDA) campaigns, disease surveillance activities, and large-scale training and awareness-raising efforts.

Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy Richard Bell said in his August 13th address, “USAID’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Program has supported the implementation of large-scale, integrated treatment programs against these diseases since 2006. By the end of this year, just eight years later, USAID will have supported the delivery of one billion cumulative NTD treatments worldwide. It has become the world leader in supporting countries in the implementation of large-scale integrated NTD treatment programs.”

Deputy Mission Chief Bell also highlighted the USAID NTD program’s impressive efforts to build public-private partnerships, which represent largest such collaboration in the agency’s 50-year history. To date, this collaboration has enabled the distribution of $6.7 billion in donated medicines, representing one of the most cost-effective and innovative partnerships in global health.

Secretary General Maiga, Deputy Mission Chief Bell and officials from Niger’s NTD Program recognized the receipt of a new shipment of Praziquantel, a key NTD medication, from Merck Serono. The officials then toured the Niger’s National Office of Pharmaceutical and Chemicals (ONPPC), which stores and manages the national distribution of the drugs.

Getting the donated medicines from the national warehouse to the people who need them in each community is a huge undertaking that relies on the coordinated efforts of many thousands of community drug distributors and health personnel. In honor of the many health professionals and community volunteers who work tirelessly to keep their neighbors healthy, Mr. Bell publicly recognized the work of two unsung heroes in Niger’s fight against NTDs: Dr. Aichatou Alfari, a public health specialist in Niger’s Ministry of Health, and Mr. Sani Bokoye, a community drug distributor in the village of Inkorégaou in Niger’s Maradi region.

Dr. Alfari works on developing and implementing national strategies to control schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminths. Mr. Bokoye was the first person to volunteer as a community drug distributor in his community, despite his full-time work as a farmer and his family commitments as the father of twelve children. Through their hard work and dedication, health professionals and volunteers such as Dr. Alfari and Mr. Bokoye ultimately determine the success of Niger’s NTD Program, and for that, we are all grateful!

See more event photos on ONPPC’s website.

Read more about the Niger NTD ceremony and celebration in Le Sahel newspaper (in French)