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Federal Government and NGOs Join Forces to Tackle Mental Health for NTDs

In a significant stride towards enhancing the well-being of individuals grappling with Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), the Federal Government (FG) of Nigeria has forged a crucial alliance with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address the pressing matter of mental healthcare for those affected by NTDs. This pivotal announcement was made by Ms. Ekaete Umoh, the Country Director of CBM Global, during a project launch event titled: “Strengthening Access to People-centered Mental Healthcare for Persons Affected by Neglected Tropical Diseases in Nigeria.” The event took place on a Friday in Abuja, Nigeria.

According to Ms. Umoh, more than 160 million Nigerians face the risk of contracting NTDs, and the absence of mental health support for these individuals has emerged as an urgent concern.

The project, scheduled to operate from August 1, 2023, to January 31, 2025, is designed to cater to nearly 1,000 individuals with NTDs suffering from mental health challenges by providing them with healthcare services and support. Furthermore, over 50,000 people at risk of NTDs will be reached through awareness campaigns.

Notable partners collaborating on this essential project include the Federal Ministry of Health, Health and Development Support Programme (HANDS), RedAid Nigeria (RAN), The Leprosy Mission Nigeria (TLMN), International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA), and Jos University Teaching Hospital.

Vanguard reports that NTDs represent a diverse group of infectious diseases that are frequently prevalent in low-income nations, affecting over a billion individuals globally. While the physical symptoms of NTDs encompass chronic pain and disabilities, those affected often grapple with emotional distress, mental health issues, and the burden of societal stigmatization due to their condition.

Ms. Umoh emphasized the project’s alignment with CBM Global’s Country Strategy Plan: “Collaborative Actions to End the Cycle of Poverty & Disabilities (COLLABO: 2023 – 2026),” specifically targeting improved access to quality inclusive education and comprehensive, affordable, and holistic health services, including mental health support.

She stated, “Available evidence shows that NTDs contribute to about 1% of the global burden of disease and cause devastating human, social, and economic impact on over one billion people globally – an estimated 40% of whom are in the African region. In Nigeria, an estimated 168 million people (nearly 80% of the population) are at risk of at least one NTD. Furthermore, research has shown that many NTDs have a substantial comorbidity with mental health. Depression and anxiety are most associated with many of the NTDs, driven by social exclusion and discrimination associated with stigma. Stigma can be reduced by offering integrated services for diagnosis, control, and treatment of skin NTDs and common skin conditions. Joint delivery of psychosocial and stigma reduction interventions (e.g., Community education and counseling) suitable for multiple skin NTDs can also help to improve access to these services and improve the quality of life of persons affected.”

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Mr. Kachollom Daju, represented by the Director/National Coordinator for NTDs, Mr. Fatai Bamiyi Oyediran, underscored the grave consequences of NTDs. He revealed that Nigeria accounts for a staggering 40% of tropical diseases worldwide. Mr. Daju emphasized that NTDs disproportionately affect the most vulnerable populations living in areas with poor sanitation, limited access to clean water, and inadequate healthcare services.

He stated, “NTDs disfigure, disable, keep children out of school, and deprive parents of employment opportunities, limiting their potential and perpetuating poverty in communities. NTDs pose a significant obstacle to the nation’s progress towards universal health coverage and remain a serious impediment to poverty reduction, economic prosperity, and social development. To deepen the integration, and in line with the WHO NTD roadmap 2030, the Nigerian NTD master plan 2023-2027 adopted a cross-cutting programmatic approach that provides a framework for co-implementation of mental health and NTDs in Nigeria.”

In conclusion, this collaborative effort between the Federal Government and NGOs represents a crucial step forward in addressing the mental health needs of individuals affected by NTDs in Nigeria, and it holds the promise of significantly improving the lives of those who have long suffered in silence. The initiative also aligns with global efforts to combat NTDs and provides a comprehensive approach to addressing the physical and psychological aspects of these debilitating diseases.

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