The Carter Center undertakes one of the largest initiatives in providing health education and treatment for schistosomiasis in Nigeria, the world's most endemic country for this preventable but devastating disease.
What is schistosomiasis?
Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharziasis or "snail fever," is a waterborne parasitic infection that damages internal organs. The most common symptoms are blood in urine and/or feces and an enlarged liver, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, and anemia.
Schistosomiasis is contracted when a person has contact with contaminated water, often through daily activities such as bathing, washing laundry, and fetching water. The parasite can live for years in the veins near the bladder or intestines, laying thousands of eggs that tear and scar tissues of the intestines, liver, bladder, and lungs.
It most commonly affects school-aged children, who come into contact with the disease during their daily chores or at play.
How widespread is the problem?
In terms of socioeconomic and public health impact, schistosomiasis is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease in tropical countries. Nigeria is the most endemic country for schistosomiasis, with approximately 20 million people — mostly children — needing treatment.
For communities already burdened by poverty and ravaged by scourges such as malaria and tuberculosis, schistosomiasis is especially devastating — weakening the body's resistance to other infections and preventing children from reaching their full potential. An infection with schistosomiasis can result in anemia, stunted growth and development of children, chronic debility, and sometimes premature death.
The Carter Center assists the Nigeria Ministry of Health in providing health education and the drug praziquantel to treat schistosomiasis in six states — Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Nasarawa, and Plateau — where the burden of the disease is greatest. This cooperative effort is the largest schistosomiasis treatment initiative in Nigeria.
The donated drug praziquantel can reverse up to 90 percent of the damage caused by the parasite. Schistosomiasis can be controlled and treated easily with a single annual dose of praziquantel.
The World Health Organization, Merck KGaA (Germany), and many additional partners have made possible the delivery of more than 10 million praziquantel treatments by The Carter Center in Nigeria since 1999.
Results and Impact
- Blood in schoolchildren's urine — a telltale sign of schistosomiasis infection — has been reduced by approximately 94 percent in Plateau and Nasarawa states and approximately 88 percent in Delta state.
- A Carter Center-assisted effort has shown that treatments for schistosomiasis can be delivered at the same time as interventions against lymphatic filariasis and river blindness, helping the ministry of health reach programs more efficiently through one community-based health education and drug distribution system instead of separate ones for each disease.