Community volunteers distribute medicine to villagers in the District of Aboisso, southeast Cote d'Ivoire, as part of a nationwide mass campaign aimed at eliminating neglected tropical diseases through education and distribution of anti-parasitic drugs. Photo Credit: USAID
Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect the health of over 1 billion people worldwide. In Côte d'Ivoire, 17 million people are at risk of three NTDs in particular: onchocerciasis (river blindness), lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and soil-transmitted helminthiasis (whipworm, hookworm, roundworm). These diseases can cause severe sickness and disfigurement, affect mental and physical development, and lead to discrimination, stigmatization and loss of economic productivity.
The Ministry of Health, with the support of the USAID NTD Program, conducted a nationwide mass campaign with a large communications component to eliminate or at least reduce those diseases through education and distribution of an anti-parasitic drugs.
On September 19, 2016 a team from our Mission met Yaya Diabagaté, a student in his early 20's, who had participated in the campaign as a community distributor. Yaya had been going from house to house with a backpack filled with a register, a measuring tool for correct drug dosing, and boxes of the anti-parasitic medications ivermectin and albendazole, as well as a gallon of water. He diligently used this measuring tool as well as the other tools to measure the height of the individuals so he could determine the correct dosage, ensure that each individual took the medication at that moment, make a record for the dose given and mark their fingernail to ensure no one was given the medication more than once. He was content, the day had been a good one: not even one person had refused treatment.
In the District of Aboisso, in the south-east of Côte d'Ivoire, the drug was distributed from September 15 to 20, 2016. During that time, community health volunteers travelled from dawn to dusk across towns and rural areas, to schools, places of worship, businesses, restaurants and households and more to reach at least 85 percent of the population five years and older.
The population's high response rate was the result of a strong communication plan to inform them about the campaign and gain their consent for the treatment at the individual level. Local radio stations ran a spot in local languages, a simple message to inform populations about the campaign to fight worm-related and other parasitic diseases. It included a description of the symptoms to ensure everyone understood why they were being treated.
A significant part of this campaign was sending letters to priests and imams to involve them in the campaign, not only to get the word out to their followers but also to make their churches and mosques available as campaign sites. In addition, traditional story tellers were brought into the campaign to reach other people in public places such as the markets.
This is the first year of a three-year annual campaign conducted by USAID and the Government of Cote d'Ivoire with the goal of partnering with other programs that address NTDs so that they will no longer pose a significant public health threat by 2020.