Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a neglected tropical disease caused by parasitic worms. It is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries with poor sanitation and water hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 200 million people are infected with bilharzia, and more than 700 million are at risk of contracting the disease.

Bilharzia is transmitted through contaminated water sources, particularly in areas where freshwater snails that carry the parasitic worms are present. The parasites burrow into the skin of humans who come into contact with infested water, and can cause a range of symptoms including fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, and liver and kidney damage. If left untreated, bilharzia can lead to severe complications and even death.

Preventing bilharzia requires a multifaceted approach that focuses on improving water hygiene, sanitation, and public health education. Here are some strategies for preventing bilharzia:

1. Access to Clean Water: Providing access to clean, safe water sources is crucial for preventing bilharzia. This can be achieved through the construction of wells, boreholes, and water treatment facilities. Additionally, promoting the use of water filters and purifiers can help reduce the risk of bilharzia transmission.

2. Sanitation: Improving sanitation infrastructure, such as proper waste disposal and sewage systems, is important for preventing the spread of bilharzia. Contaminated water sources should be identified and treated to eliminate the risk of parasitic infestation.

3. Health Education: Public health education plays a vital role in preventing bilharzia. Communities at risk should be educated about the dangers of bilharzia transmission and the importance of practicing good hygiene. This includes avoiding contact with infested water, wearing protective clothing, and regularly washing and drying clothes after potential exposure to contaminated water.

4. Snail Control: Since freshwater snails are the intermediate hosts of the bilharzia parasite, efforts to control snail populations can help reduce the risk of transmission. This can be achieved through the use of molluscicides and other environmental control measures.

5. Mass Drug Administration: In high-risk areas, mass drug administration of praziquantel, the recommended treatment for bilharzia, can be implemented to decrease the prevalence of the disease. This approach is often carried out in coordination with other preventive measures to achieve maximum impact.

6. Research and Surveillance: Continued research and surveillance are essential for monitoring the prevalence of bilharzia and identifying at-risk populations. This can help inform targeted interventions and control strategies.

Preventing bilharzia requires a coordinated effort from governments, healthcare providers, and the community. By implementing strategies that focus on improving water and sanitation infrastructure, promoting health education, and controlling snail populations, the risk of bilharzia transmission can be significantly reduced. With sustained efforts and resources, it is possible to prevent and ultimately eliminate bilharzia as a public health threat.

About the author

Kwame Anane