Botswana is one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where communicable diseases cause significant morbidity and mortality, says permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Ms Shenaaz El Halabi. Speaking at the launch of Neglected Tropical Diseases Mapping recently, Ms El Halabi said the government had been addressing major communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB and diarrheal afflictions with support from national and international partners.

She said neglected tropical diseases were those that most countries have been able to control over the years. They are not a public health threat but continue to affect a portion of the population. “The diseases that are suspected to exist in Botswana include schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis and soil transmitted helminthes,” she said. Another neglected tropical disease is that of intestinal worms.

These are parasites that live in the intestines of humans. Two billion people are infected by intestinal worms worldwide, with the highest infections occurring in children aged between five and 15 years. “Just like in other countries in the region, Botswana has committed to the WHO roadmap towards the elimination of these diseases by 2020 and most NTDs are reported mainly in northern Botswana where climate conditions around the Okavango Delta present a favourable environment for their proliferation and transmission,” she said.

She highlighted that with the envisaged expansion of irrigation farming in the Okavango Delta, it was anticipated that prevalence rates for waterborne diseases would increase. “Today we are launching a survey to be carried out across all districts to inform us on the prevalence of schistosomiasis and soil transmitted helminths (STH),” she said. She stated that lymphatic fiiariasis would only be mapped in Ngami, Chobe, Tutume, North East and Bobirwa, which border Zimbabwe and Zambia, where it is known to be prevalent.

Ms EL Halabi also added that Okavango, which has a riverine climate, would also be mapped for lymphatic fiiariasis. She said that the mapping design would follow the WHO mapping guidelines. She explained that the mapping would identify endemic areas and mass drug administration would be carried out to eliminate the infections and the related morbidity. “The mapping teams will sample five schools per district and screen students aged between 10-14 years for these diseases and those found with the diseases will be given immediate treatment,” said Ms EL Halabi.

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