MRU Health Stakeholders Brainstorm on Neglected Tropical Diseases

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Health experts from the four Mano River Union (MRU) countries including Liberia, Guinea, La Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, and international partners have conducted a three-day brainstorming conference on ways to eradicate common diseases in the interior parts of these countries.

The diseases otherwise referred to as “Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD)” include River Blindness, Schistosomiasis, Soil Transmitted Helminthes (STH), Lymphatic Filariasis, Rabies, Buluri Ulcer and many others.

Neglected Tropical Diseases are infectious diseases that authorities are inattentive to and are underfunded.

Health experts including Dr. Peter Coleman, Dr. Francis Nah Kateh and others, spoke at yesterday’s launch of the Count Down Measure on October 19 in Monrovia. In their separate statements, each of the speakers described these diseases as contagious and often account for the deaths of many people in the interior parts of these countries.

In his opening statement, Dr. Kateh said the gathering served as a platform to strengthen collaboration among member countries in the fight against NTDs.

The NTDs are groups of diseases that have traditionally received little attention, and are underfunded. He said the diseases are found in poverty-stricken communities in rural areas.

These diseases are affecting 1.7 billion people in 185 countries, who need mass treatment, he added.

Dr. Kateh is Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer. He expressed the hope that during the three-day research discussions, participants will generate ideas that will help to eradicate these diseases, which he says are grossly affecting a lot of citizens in the MRU basin.

Kateh said it is expedient to involve all relevant institutions in the integration research so as to find the necessary solutions to eradicate NTDs.

Additionally, Dr. Kateh remains hopeful that the ongoing meeting will bring forth feedback from the 8th NTD meeting that was held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 2013.

Furthermore, he said the brainstorming meeting should be able to yield implementable results that will enhance activities leading to tackling NTDs.

In a remark, Dr. Peter Coleman, a Senator from Grand Kru County, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, conceded that the term NTDs came about years back when diseases in this category were given less attention in tropical areas.

He said while serving as Minister of Health during the regime of former President Charles Taylor, they discussed in Geneva, Switzerland, diseases affecting people that the world was concerned about, including Hypertension, Pressure and others.

He said the world is providing little funding for the fight against tropical diseases that were confronting people.

Dr. Coleman said they exerted pressure on WHO to consider the calamity that was facing people in tropical regions suffering from said diseases, which is how the name NTDs came about, and funding was made available.

The chair on the House’s Standing Committee on Health, River Gee County Representative Johnson Toe Chea, said the county is no exception to the effect of NTDs, and as a member of the Legislature and chairing a committee on health, he will collaborate with his colleagues to solicit funds to help fight the diseases.

The first day of the NTDs research consultation witnessed the inauguration of Dr. Evelyn Kandakai as NTDs MRU Ambassador.

In her statement of acceptance, Dr. Kandakai expressed her interest in working with the NTDs group to educate the public through awareness on the prevalence of these diseases and not to have mythological beliefs.

She said many a time when any of the diseases is affecting a person, people will capitalize on accusations of witchcraft and shift the blame on innocent people.

Dr. Kandakai earned her first degree in biology and both master’s and doctorate degrees in education. She said since her job has to do with education, she cannot divorce herself from it, because it is her area.

In their resolution at the end of the workshop on Friday, October 21, the regional health workers reached among other things that government and international partners help to create psychosocial program and economic empowerment for victims of NTDs.

They also reached a conclusion that a communication system be set up to effectively communicate Neglected Tropical Disease messages to help people take precaution.

Meanwhile, partners supporting NTDs in the MRU region include Healthy Life, WHO, AIM Initiative, effect: hope, American Leprosy Missions, and MAP. Others are Sight Savers, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, Partners In Health, fgi360, The End Fund, and Africa Center.

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