Two horrific diseases in Nigeria - malaria and lymphatic filariasis (LF) - are being targeted for elimination through a new effort to combine prevention activities, which are detailed in a set of co-implementation guidelines issued on February 18, 2014, by the Federal Ministry of Health with support from The Carter Center.
Malaria, a disease that kills an estimated 660,000 people worldwide each year, and LF, a disabling disease that disfigures and stigmatizes those who suffer from it, share common ground. The same breed of mosquito transmits both diseases, and Nigeria bears a larger share of the burden for malaria and lymphatic filariasis than most of the world.
"About 96 percent of Nigerians are at risk for malaria, and about 66 percent are at risk for lymphatic filariasis," says Dr. Bridget Okoeguale who heads the public health department in Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH).
As Africa's first articulated guidelines for programmatic co-implementation to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and malaria, the plan takes advantage of shared interventions to tackle both diseases such as health education, distribution of long-lasting insecticidal bed nets, and mass drug administration. The Carter Center, working in partnership with the Nigerian government and local communities, demonstrated in two Nigeria states that this integrated approach can be effective as well as save precious time and resources. Health education and social messaging are streamlined, and planning, coordination, supervision, and monitoring efforts are simplified, not duplicated.
"The idea is that from working together these two programs will achieve the goals of both diseases – elimination of malaria and elimination of lymphatic filariasis – more effectively and hopefully, cheaper and faster," says Dr. Frank Richards, director of the Carter Center's malaria and lymphatic filariasis programs.
In an effort to protect the 170 million Nigerians believed to be at risk for one or both diseases, the guidelines are currently being shared with all 774 local government areas to reach community health centers throughout Nigeria's 36 states. The FMOH and partners will work with the state ministries and communities to implement the guidelines starting in 2014.
"We are encouraging every other country to make sure that they also develop this co-implementation and guideline to ensure that we don't spread these diseases," says Dr. Okoeguale.
The Carter Center's decades-long partnership with Nigeria's Ministry of Health began with Guinea worm disease eradication efforts in 1988. Since then, the Center and its partners have taken on river blindness, schistosomiasis, trachoma, LF, and malaria. Guinea worm already has been wiped out in Nigeria, and the launch of these guidelines offers hope that the days of LF and malaria are also numbered.