Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease that leads to chronic ill-health affecting more than 200 million people in developing countries. Intestinal worms cause debilitating malnutrition, stunted growth and anaemia.
The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), supported by a $30 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was established in 2002 to tackle schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa, where infected people are unable to afford the drugs needed for treatment. Schistosomiasis can be treated with a single dose of an inexpensive and effective medicine called praziquantel.
Professor Alan Fenwick, Director of the SCI, comments: "Simple measures such as the provision of education and low cost treatment programmes have now helped reduce the burden of illness for over ten million people. SCI is an excellent example of a simple and highly cost effective programme which has helped alleviate a global problem. Parasitic diseases are often left untreated because priority is given to more acute diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB. But the treatment, which costs less than 25 pence per year, gives children a much better start in life."
In addition to a treatment programme, the SCI has also set up an education programme to raise awareness of the disease, and how to avoid becoming infected by schistosomiasis.
Professor Stephen Smith, Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, adds: "Alan and his team have managed a remarkable feat in treating so many people in such a short period of time. These figures show how initiatives such as the SCI can make a real difference in tackling serious problems in the developing world."