The Government of Niger, with support from the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN), gathered neglected tropical disease (NTD) experts, cross-sector specialists from key ministries, and World Health Organization officials last week in Kollo to consolidate the results of a workshop on soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH), commonly known as intestinal worms, held earlier this month. The forthcoming meeting report will serve as a tool to help the Government, via its National Program for the Control of Bilharziasis and Soil-Helminths (PNLBG), improve cross-sectoral collaboration on NTDs and advocate for funding needed to fight STH in the coming years.
Intestinal worms are among the most common infections worldwide and affect the poorest and most deprived communities, with women and children being at particularly high risk. People living in areas that lack adequate sanitation can become infected through direct contact with STH eggs, often by eating vegetables that haven’t been thoroughly washed, drinking contaminated water, or walking barefoot on contaminated soil.
Intestinal worms can cause anemia or malnutrition by reducing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and vitamins. They also increase susceptibility to other infectious diseases and can stunt children’s growth and impair intellectual development.
Improving cross-sectoral collaboration and funding advocacy for STH have become increasingly important goals for the PNLBG, as Niger approaches national elimination of another NTD known as lymphatic filariasis (LF), which is treated with the same medicines used to treat STH. That’s because once LF ceases to be a public health problem in Niger, the Nigerien population will no longer need treatment against LF, and thus, there is concern that drug donations and donor funding may also disappear. The potential reduction in available LF/STH medicine following national LF elimination may complicate the PNLBG’s efforts to fight STH post LF-elimination.
October’s STH workshop and the subsequent consolidation meeting held last week were part of the PNLBG’s strategy to plan for a smooth transition from LF endemicity to LF elimination while ramping up support for efforts to fight STH over the medium term. In addition to PNLBG staff, officials from Niger’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Hydraulics, the World Health Organization and Hellen Keller International attended the meeting.