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Integrated approach to the control of lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminthiasis in Liberia, West Africa

In Liberia, the most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are: lymphatic filariasis (LF); schistosomiasis (SCH); soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH); and onchocerciasis (Oncho). My research sought to explore an integrated approach for the control of these NTDs to assist the Ministry of Health (MoH) in establishing a better co-ordinated, economical and cost-effective intervention. As a result of my research, the MoH, in collaboration with the Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (CNTD) at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, progressively unified the disease-specific vertical programmes into a single umbrella, entitled: 'The Integrated NTDs Programme'. Previously, Oncho control was the only tropical disease programme established within the MoH and acted as a stand-alone. Steps towards integration were first tailored upon the existing vertical delivery mechanisms for Oncho i.e., Community-Directed Treatment with Ivermectin (CDTI) through existing drug distribution networks and school-based programmes. The aim of my study was to develop and implement an integrated strategy for LF, SCH and STH first using the CDTI Oncho networks to obtain data on the prevalence and risk factors for these diseases simultaneously. During my study period, certain activities within the MoH were suspended due to the emergency response to the Ebola epidemic. This eventually led my thesis to be structured into two parts, pre- and postepidemic. Pre-epidemic-LF: The first national baseline disease mapping by immunochromatographic test (ICT) cards and baseline microfilaria pre-Mass Drug Administration (MDA) in Liberia. This provided epidemiological data for the entire country, which was used by the MoH to identify implementation units for MDA. The overall ICT prevalence was 24.0% with the highest percentage prevalence observed in the coastal region. The study also revealed that LF was endemic in 13 out of the 15 counties in Liberia. The baseline microfilaria result reported, in the study, a 6.0% prevalence rate. A total of 1,498 men were examined for the clinical manifestation of the disease, of which, 12.0% hydrocele and 6.0% lymphoedema cases were observed. A population-based knowledge and compliance study on LF was carried out in Bong County. Analysis of the results showed that more than 60.0% of the participants were aware of the disease, but only 43.0% of the participants admitted to taking both Albendazole and Ivermectin, demonstrating low treatment coverage, even though 50.0% of the participants knew the mode of LF transmission. Post-epidemic-STH and SCH: Parastiological surveillance studies were undertaken in Bong County as a representative epidemiological indicator for the national control programme to provide up-to-date information on SCH and STH. An epidemiological update on urogenital and intestinal SCH was undertaken amongst schoolchildren in Bong County, northern Liberia alongside observations on STH. A cross-sectional study examined 1,003 school-aged children from 10 schools representing eight health districts in the country where MDA campaigns were ongoing. In total, 12.0% of the children were infected with Schistosoma mansoni and 11.0% infected with Schistosoma haematobium, while general prevalence of STH was much lower with hookworm having the highest prevalence of 3.0%. For the first time, a knowledge attitude and practices survey for SCH, LF and STH was assessed amongst school-aged children in Bong County, northern Liberia, which highlighted the need for better health education and improved sanitation. For example, analysis of data demonstrated that from the 1,003 participants 92.0% had not heard of LF, 86.0% had not heard of STH, and 90.0% had not heard of SCH. Only 9.0% of participants had access to pipe water. To investigate the morbidity associated with SCH, a cross-sectional assessment using portable ultrasound was undertaken, which was the first ever field-based investigation in Liberia. Of the 272 school-aged children examined, morbidity was low (< 1.0%) demonstrating little clinical moribidity in this school-based setting. My research was activated and first guided by recommendations from the World Health Organization (Global Plan to Combat NTDs, 2008-2015) to examine ways in which interventions against NTDs could be better co-ordinated and streamlined. The concept of integrated NTD control is attractive in resource poor settings such as Liberia as it can rationalize costs associated with logistics, staffing, and also better delivery of medicines. My research suggests that, the integrated approach to controlling NTDs is possible, cost-effective, and less time consuming. The recommendations made are that, the integrated NTDs programme at the MoH should collaborate with other health service programmes at the MoH, the Ministry of Education, the Liberia water and sewer company, the National Drug Service, and other relevant stakeholders in order to achieve its goal and produce more maintainable impact. The conclusions are that, an integrated disease programme should strengthen and not threaten or compromise the current efforts to efficiently co-ordinate, reduce, eliminate, and ultimately eradicate specific diseases within the NTDs.

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Kpoto L
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University of Liverpool
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