Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a neglected tropical disease that continues to affect millions of people worldwide. This parasitic disease is caused by several species of flatworms belonging to the genus Schistosoma. It is considered to be one of the most widespread and socioeconomically damaging parasitic diseases in the world.

Bilharzia is transmitted through contact with contaminated water, where the parasitic larvae (cercariae) are released from freshwater snails. When a person comes into contact with the infected water, the larvae penetrate the skin and migrate through the bloodstream to the veins of the bladder, intestines, liver, and other organs where the adult worms live and lay eggs. The eggs can cause inflammation and damage to the organs, leading to a range of symptoms including fever, chills, cough, abdominal pain, and bloody urine or stool.

The impact of bilharzia is particularly severe in impoverished, rural areas where access to clean water and sanitation is limited. It is estimated that over 200 million people worldwide are affected by bilharzia, with the majority of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Children are particularly at risk of infection due to their frequent contact with contaminated water while playing, swimming, or doing domestic chores.

The chronic nature of bilharzia can have serious long-term effects on affected individuals, including anemia, malnutrition, liver and kidney damage, and an increased risk of bladder cancer. In addition to the heavy burden it places on individuals and communities, bilharzia is also a significant barrier to socioeconomic development. The disease can lead to reduced productivity, hindered educational opportunities, and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Despite its prevalence and impactful consequences, bilharzia is often overlooked in global health initiatives. The disease is considered a neglected tropical disease, meaning that it receives less attention and funding for research, prevention, and treatment compared to other diseases with a similar impact. This lack of attention has resulted in a shortage of effective control measures and limited access to treatment for those affected by bilharzia.

Preventive measures such as improved water and sanitation infrastructure, access to safe water sources, and health education are key to reducing the transmission of bilharzia. Mass drug administration of the antiparasitic drug praziquantel is also an effective strategy for controlling the spread of the disease, as it can treat and prevent new infections in at-risk populations.

Efforts to raise awareness about bilharzia and advocate for increased funding and resources for prevention and treatment are crucial in addressing the ongoing impact of this neglected tropical disease. By prioritizing bilharzia within global health agendas and investing in comprehensive control measures, we can work towards reducing the burden of this devastating disease on the millions of people affected by it.

About the author

Kwame Anane