Treatment of Schistosomiasis in Africa

Treatment of Schistosomiasis in Africa


Schistosomiasis is part of a group of diseases that generally afflict the poorer regions of the world. These diseases are collectively called neglected tropical diseases because historically, little funding has been put into researching cures or treating the afflicted population; instead, efforts have been focused on more fatal diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria (WHO, 2013). Schistosomiasis is caused by tropical flatworms whose larvae enter the body directly through the skin and develop into reproducing adult worms (Thétiot-Laurent et al., 2013). The body’s reaction to the worms’ eggs results in chronic “abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in the stool,” which, over time, causes permanent damage to the vital organs of the body (WHO, 2013). Although schistosomiasis has a low mortality rate, severe economic and health consequences arise from this debilitating disease; it impairs growth and cognitive development in children and decreases productivity and quality of life in adults (WHO, 2013). Over 90% of cases are found in Africa, affecting over 200 million people (Steinmann et al., 2006; Utzinger et al., 2009) and causing more than 200,000 deaths each year (WHO, 2013). This number is likely to be an underestimation since lighter infections may not be detected by current diagnostic methods (King, 2010). These factors make schistosomiasis a significant global health issue.

In recent years, more and more people have become aware of neglected tropical diseases, and both donors and governments have started to invest money and research efforts to treat schistosomiasis on a global scale. International organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), have also coordinated efforts to implement treatment in various African countries. In 2002, the WHO passed Resolution WHA 54.19, aimed at decreasing the number of children infected by schistosomiasis by 75%. Although this target has not been achieved, some progress has been made. A decade later, the WHO passed Resolution WHA 65.21 to encourage governments to intensify the control of schistosomiasis by calling countries with lower transmission rates into action (WHO, 2013). The development of praziquantel, a safe and effective drug for treating schistosomiasis, has accelerated these efforts (Stothard et al., 2009). It has been included in a rapid impact package of several drugs, used in mass drug implementation campaigns that have been met with considerable success (Rollinson et al., 2013). However, issues arise as to what future course of action should be taken to build on this success and strive towards elimination of the disease altogether. For sustainable control of schistosomiasis, morbidity control programs should continue to be used in the short-term, but they should be complemented and eventually replaced by environmental measures in the long-term.

Link to the full article: Full Article

Junyi Mei is finishing her B.Sc. in Anatomy and Cell Biology and looks forward to working at a medical research lab this summer. She is interested in global health equality and issues such as diseases that afflict marginalized populations worldwide.

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