Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a hidden parasite that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a neglected tropical disease that often goes unnoticed, yet it has significant consequences for those infected. With over 200 million cases worldwide, this disease poses a serious threat to public health in many regions.

Bilharzia is caused by parasitic worms of the genus Schistosoma. These worms live in freshwater snails, which act as an intermediate host for the parasite’s life cycle. When infected snails release the parasite into the water, it can penetrate the skin of humans who come into contact with the contaminated water. This typically happens during recreational or occupational activities like swimming, bathing, or farming in infested waters.

The symptoms of bilharzia vary depending on the stage of infection. In the early stage, which is the acute phase, symptoms may include a rash, fever, cough, and muscle aches. If undiagnosed and untreated, the disease progresses to the chronic stage, when it can lead to severe health complications. Chronic bilharzia affects various organs, most commonly the liver, intestines, bladder, and urinary tract. It can cause liver fibrosis, kidney failure, bladder cancer, and infertility, significantly reducing the quality of life for those affected.

While bilharzia is prevalent in several regions of the world, it is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa. Poverty, inadequate sanitation, and lack of safe water sources contribute to the high incidence of this disease in these areas. Communities living near rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water are particularly vulnerable to infection.

Preventing and controlling bilharzia relies on various intervention strategies. These include mass drug administration (MDA), which involves the distribution of antiparasitic drugs, health education and raising awareness about the disease, treating infected individuals, and improving access to safe water and improved sanitation. MDA programs have shown significant success in reducing the prevalence and intensity of the disease, but long-term sustainability remains a challenge.

Additionally, research and development efforts are crucial in order to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of bilharzia. There is a need for effective, affordable, and easy-to-use diagnostic tools that can be deployed in resource-limited settings. Furthermore, the development of new drugs and vaccines is essential in the fight against this often neglected disease.

The global health community recognizes the urgency of addressing neglected tropical diseases like bilharzia. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set targets for the control and elimination of bilharzia and other neglected tropical diseases by 2030. International collaborations, increased funding, and political commitment are vital for achieving these goals and reducing the burden of bilharzia on affected communities.

Bilharzia is a hidden parasite that affects millions of people worldwide, yet it often remains overlooked. The disease not only affects people’s health but also hinders socio-economic development in affected areas. As we strive for a healthier and more equitable world, it is essential to prioritize efforts to control and eliminate bilharzia, ensuring that no one suffers from the devastating consequences of this hidden parasite.

About the author

Kwame Anane