HEALTH and Climate Change advocates and gurus are of the notion that awareness raising from as early as primary school ages on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) is necessary to reduce their burden in Zimbabwe.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
With the nation launching the Zimbabwe School Health Policy in 2018, experts feel awareness is important so that people can prevent themselves from these NTDs.
In separate interviews with these interested parties on the sidelines of Global Shapers Harare NTD Day Commemorations, it emerged that lack of awareness is derailing efforts made in combating NTDs.
Director National Institute of Research in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Professor Nicholas Midzi bemoaned the lack of funding towards research in the fight against NTDs.
NTDs have not been awarded more monies and you know these are chronic in nature. The time we talk about them, it would be a time when it is too late. And you find that about the NTDs, a lot of people in the communities are carriers of the parasites. Those with chronic infections are the ones visiting health facilities triggering treatment and hence the lack of awareness is one important factor limiting research in the area,” he said.
He however acknowledged the role played by local philanthropic organisations such as HigherLife Foundation in this battle.
“Of late now, we have had a revolution. We are seeing a lot of efforts now actually there is a lot of resource mobilisation towards NTDs. In research and control I will give an example of HigherLife Foundation our local philanthropy interested in NTDs,” said Prof Midzi.
Prof Midzi noted that by and large it is awareness and the preference of funds towards research which is vital. “If you have got the funds, you want to research in an area giving solutions to your own problems. So if you don’t have the funds, if you have got problems, you may not be able to research in the areas of interest to yourself. But you end up researching in areas that answer questions that have to do with other nationalities and not your own nationalities,” he said.
A Pharmacist Alumni with the Global Shapers Harare Hub Prosper Maposa finds lack of access to information being the first thing affecting improvement of disease profiling and prevalence.
“I think NTDs are affecting people in developing countries more and more importantly is not spared because it is a developing country. I think in Zimbabwe where most people are ignorant for example, people are doing mass drug administration not knowing what the drugs are for and why it is important has led to resistance from some people from taking the medicine,” he said. “More importantly, people in the urban areas are totally ignorant because of the assumption that it affects rural folk only. We are talking about intestinal worm infections which can affect anyone who is taking fresh vegetables for example and a simple deworming twice a year would ensure that we eradicate this completely.”
He added, “In terms of teaching about NTDs, I think it should start from the very early grades in primary school we just need to have content appropriate to the age. For example, as Global Shapers Harare Hub, we had a part where we created comic books with heroes and villains which was basically where Bilhazia was portrayed as a villain and the treatment being the heroes. At that age, children can easily related with cartoons but as they grow older, we get more scientific. We should literally cut across the education system from primary level to tertiary level.”
A Climate Change Leader Chido Mpemba concurred that young ages from primary schools should be taught about NTDs.
“I think it’s important we have campaigns that are centralised within the government taken to communities and become part of the school curriculum where we can have more outreach and reach more people on climate change which I believe is a crisis globally not just in Zimbabwe. I think as we know when it comes to NTDs specifically, these mostly affect children.
“ It’s important that children are taught from a younger age to know causes and impacts since they are the generation affected the most. As a result, I would say in this curriculum, the subject of climate change and public health issues should start from primary school level at the youngest age and could be progressive as they grow so that by the time they get to high school they have the relevant knowledge so that at a certain point they will be working on innovations and researches on how to fight these scourges,” she said.
World Health Organisation (WHO) commends Zimbabwe for implementing the Mass Drug Administration (MDA) to fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) namely Schistosomiasis and soil transmitted helminthiasis for children aged between five and 15.
The MDA program started in 2012. Schistosomiasis is a chronic disease caused by parasites and can infect people during routine agricultural, domestic, occupational and recreational activities. Soil-transmitted helminthic infections are caused by different species of parasitic worms which can be transmitted by eggs present in human faeces, which contaminate the soil in areas where sanitation is poor.