Clear vision, strong leadership, and unbounded enthusiasm are what Professor Dr. Ahmed Be-Nazir brought to the National NTD Program in Bangladesh when he assumed the position of Line Director for Communicable Disease Control at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Bangladesh in March 2011.
Responsible for multiple NTDs, including lymphatic filariasis, soil transmitted-helminthes (STH), visceral leishmaniasis (VL), and rabies, he has led various disease program teams to several major accomplishments. Mass treatment for lymphatic filariasis has been so successful that 14 of the country’s 19 districts with that disease have been able to stop treatment. STH mass treatment coverage among school children across the country has improved from 21 million in 2011, to almost 25 million today, mainly though better coordination, supervision and monitoring. STH control has been further revitalized through the introduction of the innovative “Little Doctor Program,” which trains selected school children to become peer educators for integrated basic public health initiatives in their schools, including deworming, nutrition, personal hygiene and sanitation. Conceived by Dr. Be-Nazir, the program has been expanded nationwide to the entire primary school system. During his tenure, there has been a 90% reduction in VL; and improved dog bite management and free vaccines have contributed to significant reductions in rabies, as well.
The work has not always been easy. Encouraging local ownership of control and elimination efforts among lower level health personnel across the nation is challenging; and logistical constraints are a constant concern. Transporting medicines; information, education and communication materials; personnel and funding to the right place at the right time in a country of 142 million people is complex and complicated. Equally challenging is the constant need to advocate for increased funding and support from the government and other stakeholders.
Have all of his efforts been successful? “No, not everything I tried was successful. For instance, the coverage and implementation of the concept of the ‘Little Doctor Program’ is not totally successful yet,” says Dr. Be-Nazir. But he is determined to continue his efforts, with his usual contagious energy and enthusiasm.
Dr. Be-Nazir’s goal is to actively contribute to realizing a Bangladesh free of NTDs. “NTDs affect poor, rural people across the country, who always receive much less attention than they should. Strong NTD programs can help address major health issues of these marginalized people, and contribute to making their lives better,” he concludes.