Investigating barriers and challenges to the integrated management of neglected tropical skin diseases in an endemic setting in Nigeria.
BACKGROUND: There is a dearth of experience in and evidence for cost-effective integrated community-based management of skin neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The objective of this study was to assess the knowledge, attitude and care-seeking practices including self-care with a view to introducing appropriate community-based interventions for skin NTDs in an endemic setting in Southern Nigeria.
METHODS/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: This exploratory study adopted a mixed-methods design consisting of cross-sectional surveys of community members and health workers using interviewer-administered questionnaires; and focus group discussions (FGDs) with community members, health care workers and patients with NTDs in Anambra State, Nigeria. The survey was completed by 353 community members (61.8% female) and 15 health care workers (100.0% female). A total of 52 individuals participated in six FGDs. Of the community members, 236 (66.9%) had heard or seen a case of leprosy; 324 (91.8%) and 131 (37.5%) had heard or seen a case of Buruli ulcer and lymphatic filariasis, respectively. Again, 213 (60.3%) of the respondents reported that the diseases were caused by witchcraft or curse. As regards prevention, 241 (68.3%) suggested avoiding handshake with affected persons. Up to 223 (63.2%) of respondents strongly agreed to the seriousness of skin NTDs in their community. Meanwhile, 272 (77.1%) of the respondents believed that the transmission of these skin NTDs can be prevented. Furthermore, 324 (91.7%) desired active community engagement for control of skin NTDs. Regarding community care seeking practices, 197 (55.8%) would first visit the health centre/hospital, followed by 91 (25.8%) traditional healer/herbalist and 35 (9.9%) pharmacy/patent medicine vendor if they develop a skin NTD. Overall, 332 (94.1%) of respondents expressed interest in being taught self-care practices for skin NTDs. Out of 15 healthcare workers, 13 (86.7%) were able to correctly diagnose two of these skin NTDs and 10 (66.7%) would encourage patients to practice self-care. Prominent themes in the FGDs were belief in witchcraft and herbal remedies; as well as the occurrence of physical, social and economic distress.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study helped quantify the information gaps that need to be addressed in order to create demand for integrated skin NTDs services in an endemic setting in Nigeria. Individual, structural and socioeconomic challenges to access and delivery of services were identified. Community and health care workers' empowerment and engagement through outreach and regular training, respectively may alleviate these challenges.