For many farmers in Rwanda, the agricultural sector represents a lifeline for their livelihoods. However, a new report indicates that agricultural activities are a major risk factor for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), particularly intestinal worms.
Emmanuel Nyirishem, a 26-year-old potato farmer from Gasabo district in Kigali, is one of the individuals affected by NTDs. He has suffered from Podoconiosis, also known as nonfilarial elephantiasis, which is a soil-borne disease caused by walking barefoot in the irritant mineral-rich soils.
Nyirishem’s condition was so severe that his wife left him, overwhelmed by the difficulties of caring for him and their two children.
However, with coordinated efforts from the Government of Rwanda and the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), Nyirishem received a comprehensive treatment package that included patient counseling, foot hygiene, skin care, wound care, bandaging, provision of socks and shoes, exercise, and regular follow-up.
Dr Albert Tuyishime, head of disease prevention and control at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says, “In Rwanda, agricultural activities are a major risk factor for Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), particularly intestinal worms. It affects 41% of Rwandans, with 48% of adults being the most affected.”
The government of Rwanda has taken a multi-sectoral approach to address NTDs, with the support of WHO and other partners such as The End Fund, Merck KGaA, and the World Food Programme.
The country is now making significant progress in the fight against NTDs, including the certification by WHO of the elimination of Rhodesiense Human Africa Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) as a public health threat.
Dr Jules Mugabo Semahore, head of NTDs at WHO Rwanda, notes that while NTDs remain a persistent challenge in the country, Rwanda continues to take giant leaps forward. “We stand with the ministry of health and Rwanda Biomedical Centre in the ongoing fight to beat NTDs by 2030,” he adds.
As for Nyirishem, his journey serves as a testament to the progress being made and the continued importance of efforts to tackle NTDs. The young farmer is now walking tall and proud, free from the pain and disability caused by Podoconiosis, and sets his sights on a new future.
“There is nothing like the joy of wearing shoes again,” he says, hopeful for a new beginning that includes a soulmate who will walk by his side without fear.
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