Category Archives: schistosomiasis

World Health Workers Week: Honoring the NTD Fighters

 

Susan Matthews educating her community in Boroma Village in Sierra Leone about schistosomiasis

Susan Matthews educating her community in Boroma Village in Sierra Leone about schistosomiasis

Sierra Leone’s Kono district is home to some of the highest rates of schistosomiasis in the country. Nearly 2 million people here are infected by this painful and sometimes-deadly neglected tropical disease (NTD).

Susan Matthews, a community health worker from Boroma village in Kono District, is on a mission to fight schistosomiasis in her community. We’re highlighting the important impact of her work, and the work of others like her, this World Health Workers Week. Health workers like Susan help sustain quality health care in rural communities by both treating and educating their communities about effective ways to prevent various diseases, including NTDs.

Susan’s work has an immense impact on people like Sahr Gando, a miner in Kono district. Sahr Gando became infected with schistosomiasis after spending hours a day mining for diamonds in infested waters. But through Mass Drug Administration (MDA), Susan is able to distribute medications to Sahr Gando and the rest of the community.  After receiving medication, those treated will be freed from NTDs for one year.

But Susan’s work doesn’t stop there.  Together with other health workers, Susan educates the community about the medication and how to prevent getting the disease.

“If you just come and drop the drugs, it will not be effective,” says Susan. “So we have to help educate them so that they know about the drug and the disease. We have to keep talking, talking, talking, talking, and then they will accept.”

Thanks to committed health workers like Susan, rural communities can have access to medication and also acquire knowledge about schistosomiasis prevention.

Luckily, people like Susan exist around the world.  This February, we were fortunate enough to meet several other dedicated health workers in India.

Health Workers at Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) are helping those with lymphatic filariasis (LF) in Orissa, India. LF is a painful and disfiguring NTD that impacts more than 20 million people in the country. The devoted health workers at CASA help with disease management for individuals that have LF by cleansing and removing bacteria from their legs. END7’s celebrity ambassador, Abhishek Bachchan, has also worked with health workers in Orissa, India in an effort to help those that suffer from LF.

Health workers are uniquely positioned to have an incredible impact on health outcomes around the world because they understand the needs of their communities and they also have the trust of community members. Health workers also build individual and community capacity by increasing health knowledge among communities and promoting community empowerment.

We’d like to thank Susan Matthews, the health workers in Orissa, India, and all health workers across the globe that continue to fight NTDs in their communities.

Watch and learn more about the great and essential work that Susan Matthews is doing in Sierre Leone here.

Why You Shouldn’t Take Your Toilet for Granted on World Toilet Day

 

Photo by Flickr user SuSanA Secretariat

Photo by Flickr user SuSanA Secretariat

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you’ve used a toilet recently. It’s also likely you’ve never really considered how fortunate you are to have access to that toilet. Could you imagine what it would be like to leave your house in the middle of the night to relieve yourself outside rather than inside the safety and privacy of a clean bathroom stall?

Today is World Toilet Day and we’re recognizing the 2.5 billion people around the world who do not have access to a toilet (that’s about 1/3 of the world’s population!). The magnitude of this problem is significant.  Without a toilet, people are forced to defecate outside – an act that compromises a person’s dignity, privacy and safety, and leaves billions susceptible to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

Schistosomiasis and intestinal worm infections such as roundworm, hookworm and whipworm are easily spread in communities that do not have access to toilets or sanitation facilities. Schistosomiasis spreads when infected people urinate or defecate close to a water source, contaminating it with the larvae of the parasite. Without proper infrastructure (toilets and city utilities) more than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated — polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas and promoting the spread of NTDs.

Simply walking barefoot around this polluted and contaminated water leaves people exposed to NTDs. As a result, people can be continually re-infected as they work, play, bathe or eat. Children especially have a high risk of contracting these diseases because they often play barefoot outside and put their hands in their mouths without washing them.

According to the World Health Organization, improving water, sanitation and hygiene can reduce trachoma by 27 percent, and improved sanitation could reduce schistosomiasis by as much as 77 percent.

By combining NTD treatment, hygiene education and creative solutions for the 2.5 billion people without access to toilets, we can tackle this problem. Important work is being done by several partner organizations to promote better water, sanitation and hygiene worldwide. The Global Network is also happy to work with former president of Ghana John A. Kufuor to promote long term NTD solutions by integrating mass drug administration with programs for water, sanitation and hygiene – a message the former president drove home at this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm, sweeden.

To learn more about the links between clean water, sanitation and NTDs, watch our quick video here

Africa’s lowest cost AIDS prevention strategy?

 

ANew commentary on the PLoS Speaking of Medicine Blog from Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, highlights exciting findings that “give us compelling reasons to recast schistosomiasis MDA as a back door AIDS prevention strategy.”

The new study, led by a team of researchers at Yale University, found that treating young girls for female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) is a highly cost-effective approach to reducing the burden of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the drug praziquantel not only reduces the devastating burden of FGS on young women but also has the potential to save up to 100 million US dollars in AIDS healthcare costs over a 10-year period.

Dr.  Hotez, who has written extensively on FGS, asserts “a critically important piece of information is that schistsomiasis MDA is ridiculously inexpensive because of generous praziquantel donations from Merck KGaA or (when there is insufficient drug being donated) it can be provided as an extremely low-cost generic (often averaging around 8 cents per tablet) from Shin Poong, MedPharm and other companies through UNICEF, WHO, and the World Bank.”

Please read Peter’s full commentary at this link, and the new study, “Potential Cost-Effectiveness of Schistosomiasis Treatment for Reducing HIV Transmission in Africa – The Case of Zimbabwean Women,” here.

Honoring Ida

 

Photo courtesy of BBC

Photo courtesy of BBC

 

We use a lot of numbers to tell the big picture about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and it’s easy to forget that often there are real people, with profound stories, behind those numbers.  We can talk about how NTDs infect more children than the total populations of the U.S. and Brazil combined.  We can tell you that schistosomiasis (snail fever) kills nearly 300,000 people a year – half the global toll of malaria.  But until those figures are linked with real people, NTDs remain abstract, even impersonal.

A few months ago, a film crew from BBC captured a story that presented NTDs in starkly human terms. As part of Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day in the United Kingdom, BBC highlighted the story of Ida, a 29 year-old woman from Malawi suffering from late-stage schistosomiasis. Ida contracted schistosomiasis by drinking contaminated water from a local pond – her only water supply.  She lived in constant pain as parasites multiplied inside her body and slowly destroyed her organs.

What makes NTDs like schistosomiasis even worse is the collateral damage they have on families.  Parents become so weak that they cannot work or care for their children, while kids with NTDs often miss out on educational opportunities that could help them break free of poverty.  In the video, Ida revealed that she had a two year old son named Samuel. “I worry a lot because my son is still very young and I worry about how he will be helped if I’m dead,” Ida said.

Ida could not produce milk to feed her son because she was too sick. Instead of milk, she was forced to fill her hungry son’s stomach with the only available resource she had – the dirty, contaminated pond water that bred the parasites slowly killing her.

The BBC film crew took Ida to the hospital, but it was too late to help her. We learned that she had died a few weeks later and that Samuel died shortly after.

Ida’s story alone is enough to convey the severity and reality of the suffering caused by schistosomiasis.  But the horrific reality is that thousands of people just like Ida die every year from the same disease. Children are orphaned, communities are devastated and the cycle of poverty continues.

The BBC video inspired Comic Relief to dedicate £100,000 to one of our partners, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), for NTD control in Malawi. That donation will prevent unnecessary deaths by offering treatment to entire communities before it is too late.  

Any preventable death, particularly of a child, is difficult to share. This story is one of the hardest we’ve told, but it also strengthens our commitment to protect families from the unnecessary suffering caused by NTDs.