Communities in Uganda in the driving seat of efforts to eliminate schistosomiasis

Nyende is the Village Health Team worker in Buwaiswa. He is one of the many health workers who assist the Ministry of Health in delivering health promotion messages to local communities.

Buwaiswa’s people depend on water for their livelihoods, which include agriculture and fishing. As a result, the water in Buwaiswa is contaminated by parasites. This puts communities at risk for Schistosomiasis.

Nyende explains:

The majority of Buwaiswa residents are fishermen. However, some also grow rice, tomatoes, and yams along the lakeshore. The bilharzia parasites infect people if they are near water.

The cost of this disease is very high for the rural community. Around 1.75 million Ugandans are not being treated, and more than two million people are at risk of re-infection.

The bilharzia outbreak has caused poverty in this region, as people are forced to use their savings for treatment. The people are sending their kids to schools that do not meet the standards because they spend all of their money on treatment “.

Nyende received training from the Ministry of Health to educate people about how to prevent this illness.

As the VHT coordinator, I encourage everyone to build and use latrines. They must not swim, farm in wetlands, or fetch water without gumboots. “I’m asking the government and nongovernmental organizations to continue supporting us by raising awareness in this area so that people can better understand how they can avoid getting bilharzia.”

Unlimited Health is working with Ministries of Health in countries like Uganda to eradicate parasitic diseases.

Children swimming in the lake in Buwaiswa. Image by: Unlimit Health/Malaika Media

Unlimited Health, in collaboration with the Uganda Ministry of Health RANAS Ltd, conducted a Pilot Project last year in Buwaiswa as well as in the surrounding communities in order to identify community-specific reasons for schistosomiasis.

The results of the study will be used for the implementation of community-driven solutions as well as the provision and improvement in water and sanitation in six communities initially, with the aim to expand the program in the future.

Mobilising support for a new treatment option for Schistosomiasis

I recently traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to support the Ministry of Health in its efforts to launch a social mobilization and advocacy strategy to roll out the new pediatric treatment options when approved. The activities began with a 2-day kick-off session, which was led by the Division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases in the Ministry of Health. Other key partners, including research institutions such as the African Institute for Health and Development and Kenya Medical Research Institute, as well as county representatives, were also present.

Community perceptions of treatment for children

The workshop was a fascinating discussion about existing community perceptions and how social mobilization strategies for preschool-age children are currently working. It also explored what barriers can be encountered in the uptake of a potential new treatment.

The community trusts its health workers but still has reservations, especially with regard to side effects. This is based on the experiences of mass drug administration programs for schistosomiasis among school-aged children. If successfully engaged, communities and religious leaders are powerful allies. However, other health campaigns have faced serious challenges because they failed to engage key community groups effectively.

Rumors, misinformation, and barriers to treatment

Rumors that injections or medicines are being used to sterilize kids secretly or that a certain disease is the result of witchcraft have caused great damage to other health campaigns. Misinformation can undermine the success of a program if it is spread.

It is, therefore, important to tread carefully and thoughtfully. We understand that treating infants, toddlers, and children is a sensitive issue, and the introduction of a new medicine can cause some concerns.

The PPC is also committed to reducing the impact of the disease, as we know that babies and toddlers will suffer if they are not treated. It’s important to reach a common understanding with the community and caregivers for children aged six and below about the importance of a potential new treatment.

The social mobilization of the population is an important element in implementing health programs.

I believe that social mobilization is an important part of implementation, even though it may be often overlooked. The PPC vision of reducing the global burden of Schistosomiasis is difficult to achieve if the perceptions and concerns of communities are ignored.

So, what’s next? What’s next? Once registered, this information will be used for future delivery of and access to potential new treatment options in affected communities.


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