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Disease treatments restart in Africa as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Treatment programmes that will reach millions of Africans at risk from debilitating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) have restarted in a significant step towards COVID-19 recovery.

Around one million people in Jigawa state, Nigeria have received antibiotics to treat the blinding eye disease trachoma and stop it from spreading.

Nigeria is the first country that Sightsavers and partners has supported to resume work on NTDs, which can have a devastating impact on some of the poorest communities in the world, with other African countries due to follow soon. In April, the threat of COVID-19 led the World Health Organization to recommend suspending mass treatment campaigns, which treat and prevent these diseases, but it has since provided guidance on restarting activities safely.

A rigorous assessment process was conducted in line with this guidance before mass NTD treatments resumed in Nigeria. Health ministries in Guinea, Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal are currently working with Sightsavers and partners to conduct similar assessments in the hope of resuming NTD activities in the coming months.

Simon Bush, director of neglected tropical diseases at Sightsavers, said: *“**The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented public health measures that have *affected all areas of healthcare. But from the moment NTD activities paused we have been working hard to find ways to restart programmes quickly and safely – and in Nigeria we are seeing the first programme resume.

“Neglected tropical diseases affect some of the most marginalised communities in the world, restarting mass NTD treatments shows they have not been forgotten. The incredible efforts being made in many African countries right now will ensure the gains that have been made to control and eliminate NTDs in recent years will not be lost due to COVID-19.”

Jigawa began mass trachoma treatment in mid-July and finished at the beginning of September. Jigawa was followed by Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara states, all of which started treatment campaigns at the end of August.

To ensure treatment distribution is COVID-safe, trained local volunteers go from house to house, rather than distributing medicine in a central location, while observing strict guidelines on social distancing, hygiene, protective equipment and other safety measures outlined by the Nigerian government and the WHO. A Command and Control Centre has also been established to monitor and respond to COVID-19 trends in the areas where treatment is being provided.

The treatment distribution is part of the five-year Accelerate trachoma eliminationprogramme, which aims to eliminate trachoma as a public health risk, or make significant progress towards trachoma elimination goals, in 14 African countries by 2023.

Sightsavers Nigeria provided technical support to the Nigerian Ministry of Health for the campaign in Jigawa state, in collaboration with CBM and implementing partner HANDS.


Notes to Editor:

  • Trachoma is a painful, infectious eye condition that can result in visual impairment and eventually lead to irreversible blindness if left untreated.
  • About 1.9 million people in the world are blind or visually impaired due to trachoma, and 137 million people are at risk of losing their sight from the disease.
  • The disease is spread through contact with infected flies and via hands, clothes or bedding that has been in contact with someone who has the disease.
  • One of the ways to eliminate trachoma is to provide preventative treatment to entire communities in areas where the disease is prevalent.
  • Trachoma is a neglected tropical disease, a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that affect more than one billion people worldwide.
  • They became known as ‘neglected’ because historically they did not spark the same public attention or investment as other diseases such as malaria. They also affect some of the most marginalised and neglected communities in the world.

Images with captions to accompany this release are available to download here (copyright of Sightsavers).

About Sightsavers

Sightsavers is an international organisation that works in more than 30 developing countries to prevent avoidable blindness, treat and eliminate neglected tropical disease, and promote the rights of people with disabilities. It is a registered UK charity (Registered charity numbers 207544 and SC038110)

Globally 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment and of these, at least 1 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness that could have been prevented or is yet to be addressed. This burden weighs more heavily on poorer countries, and on marginalised communities. And projections show that global demand for eye care is set to surge in the coming years.

In the seven decades since its foundation, Sightsavers has:

  • Supported more than 1.2 BILLION treatments for neglected tropical diseases
  • Carried out more than 7.7 million cataract operations to restore sight
  • Carried out more than 196 million eye examinations
  • Dispensed more than 4.6 million glasses

Sightsavers holds Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status, making us one of the only international non-governmental organisations to hold this status in the UK. We conduct high quality research to address global gaps in knowledge and put research findings into practice by feeding them back into the design of our programmes.