Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a silent threat to global health that affects over 200 million people worldwide, mostly in developing countries. This neglected tropical disease is caused by parasitic worms of the schistosoma genus, which are transmitted through contaminated water. Bilharzia has a devastating impact on individuals and communities, affecting both physical and socioeconomic well-being.

The parasitic worms that cause bilharzia live in freshwater snails, and the infection occurs when people come into contact with contaminated water. This can happen through activities such as swimming, bathing, or washing clothes in rivers and lakes. Once infected, the parasites lay eggs in the human body, which can lead to a range of symptoms including fever, abdominal pain, and blood in the urine or stool. In severe cases, bilharzia can cause chronic illness, organ damage, and even death.

But the impact of bilharzia goes beyond the immediate health effects. The disease can also lead to long-term consequences for affected individuals and communities. For example, chronic infection can lead to anemia, malnutrition, and stunted growth in children, affecting their ability to learn and thrive. In addition, the physical and social stigma associated with bilharzia can lead to discrimination and exclusion, further exacerbating the cycle of poverty and illness.

The economic impact of bilharzia is also significant. The disease can reduce productivity and hinder economic development in affected areas. For example, infected individuals may be unable to work or attend school, leading to lost income and opportunities. Furthermore, the costs of diagnosis, treatment, and care can place a significant burden on already struggling health systems and households.

Despite the widespread impact of bilharzia, the disease often receives little attention and funding compared to other global health issues. However, efforts to combat bilharzia and its effects are underway. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal to control and eliminate schistosomiasis as a public health problem by 2025, and various organizations are working to develop and distribute new diagnostic tools and treatments.

One promising approach to addressing bilharzia is through integrated control programs that combine efforts to improve access to clean water and sanitation with mass drug administration of praziquantel, the main treatment for the disease. These programs aim to reduce the burden of bilharzia and its associated health and economic impacts, particularly in areas where the disease is endemic.

In addition to these efforts, raising awareness about the impact of bilharzia and advocating for increased investment in research, prevention, and treatment is essential. By addressing the silent threat of bilharzia, we can help improve the health and well-being of millions of people around the world, breaking the cycle of poverty and illness that the disease perpetuates. It is crucial for the global community to unite in the fight against bilharzia and prioritize the health and well-being of those affected by this often-overlooked disease.

About the author

Kwame Anane