Merck doles out 35million tablets to combat Schistosomiasis in Nigeria
By Deo Akinbo
Multinational pharmaceutical firm, Merck, today donated 35 million tablets of Praziquantel to help Nigerian health workers treat children infected with Schistosomiasis (or bilharzia), a parasitic disease
Merck chief executive officer , Dr Stefan Oschmann, who handed over cartons of the drug to the Federal Ministry of Health and children at a Lical-Education-Authority (LEA) school in Karomajiji, in Abuja explained that schistosomiasis, caused by flatworms and spread through stagnant water, affects an estimated 249 million people around the world, 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to him, Up to 200,000 people in Africa die from chronic infection with the parasite, and infection rate is higher among children, causing learning disabilities and anaemia.
“The good news is that this disease can be treated effectively. Merck has decided to put as much PZT tablets for as long as it takes to eliminate this disease. We want to clear the barrier of affordability away by donating the tablets.”
“The 35 million-tablet donation (worth more than $5m) to Nigeria is part of 100 million tablets of PZT the firm is distributing free around the world this year, with hopes of reaching an annual donation of 250 million ,” he said.
Earlier, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Amina Shamaki who was represented at the occasion by Direct, Public Health, Dr Bridget Okoeguale,said Nigeria has the highest burden of Neglected tropical diseases in Sub Sahara Africa.
She explained that the high burden of worms in Nigeria is a matter of concern. Praziquantel tablet is the medicine of choice for the treatment of bilharziasis (schistosomiasis) a disease that presents with passage of blood in urine, distended abdomen, and cancer of the bladder at a later stage, among other symptoms.
“Endemicity of schistosomiasis has been largely determined in Nigeria with an exception of Borno and Adamawa states which have security challenges.
“The endemicity and prevalence in the 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory shows that about 43,544,818 persons are at risk and in need of treatment with praziquantel tablets, “she said.
Head teacher, LEA Primary School Karonmagiji, Airport Road (AMAC), FCT, Abuja, Mrs. Emilia Etim described the donation as a step in the right direction and the choice of her school is most appropriate.
According to her, “The community have problem of running water from bathrooms and household use; the school is the dumping site and often used for open defecation by members of the community.
The school pupils also are force to urinate and defecate in the open because there is only one block of toilet shared between the teachers and the pupils.
She further stated that as a matter of urgency, relevant authority should take steps to build additional toilets for the school and also fence the school to curb the menace of dumping refuse and open defecation which are the major causes of schistosomiasis.