In this edition of Let Us Know (LUK), IJMA Blog Co-Editor Eta Ashu interviews Dr. Olaoluwa Pheabian Akinwale, the Director of Research (Neglected Tropical Diseases) and head of the Molecular Parasitology Research Laboratory, Public Health Division, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. He calls for urgent action on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). 

LUK: If GHEP were implement one project in the field of Infectious Disease and Chronic Diseases, specifically in Nigeria, what would you recommend?

Answer: If GHEP was to carry out one project in the field of Infectious and Chronic diseases, more specifically in Nigeria, I would you recommend schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease (NTD). This is because in Nigeria there is a low level of knowledge and awareness of NTDs and their prevention compared with knowledge and awareness on HIV and malaria, and this is really having a negative impact on local funding for research on NTDs.

The country has the greatest burden for NTDs in sub-Saharan Africa, having the highest prevalence of helminth infections such as hookworm, schistosomiasis, ascariasis, trichuriasis, and lymphatic filariasis.

For example, schistosomiasis is widely distributed in Nigeria and is hyper-endemic in many states of the north and southwest with moderate to low endemicity in the southeast. The infection occurs in all the states of the federation, while an estimated 33.5 million people, mainly children aged 5–19 years, are currently at risk of the infection. The country is on the verge of completing epidemiological mapping of schistosomiasis with 32 out of 36 states completely mapped. Though there is a National Control Program established in 1988, the program itself has not witnessed large-scale control efforts.

Huge treatment gaps still exist with only about 3,907,807 people currently accessing treatment through mass drug administration (MDA), thus a compelling need to scale up MDA program in Nigeria. To further improve MDA in the country, a number of knowledge gaps needs to be filled, which include – a better understanding of the minimum coverage rate of MDA that will have an impact on transmission, factors responsible for continuous mission in many endemic areas in spite of repeated chemotherapy, and determinants of treatment coverage rates in endemic communities.

Nigeria being a country with the greatest burden of most of the NTDs in Africa, my current focus therefore is to improve our understanding of more effective ways to address these issues through operational research.

About Dr. Akinwale

Dr. Olaoluwa Pheabian Akinwale is the Director of Research (Neglected Tropical Diseases) and head of the Molecular Parasitology Research Laboratory, Public Health Division, Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. Her research group consists of research scientists who specialize in various aspects of public health including molecular parasitology, epidemiology, molecular entomology, sociology, research ethics, and biostatistics. The group has enjoyed close successful collaborative research links with national and international experts to develop molecular diagnostic assays for parasite detection and characterization of their agents of transmission. Dr Akinwale has published extensively in national and international peer reviewed scientific journals. At the academic level, she has been involved in the teaching at postgraduate levels courses on parasitology and molecular biology of tropical parasites, and has served on several committees and institutional administrative assignments.