Health officials confirm that there has been a significant reduction of parasitic diseases due to interventions against the diseases that were initiated since 2008.
According to Dr Corine Karema, the head of division, Malaria and other Parasitic Diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), the assessment of the health impact of a national control program targeting schistosomiasis and Soil Transmitted Helminthiasis (STHs) in Rwanda revealed a significant reduction of the diseases.
The assessment, conducted in 1360 school age children and in 96 adults of two villages in only five districts countrywide namely Burera, Musanze, Gicumbi, Rutsiro and Nyagatare, revealed an overall reduction in prevalence of 83.1% for Schistosoma mansoni, 80.4% for hookworm, 7.6% for T. trichiura and 11.4% for Ascaris lumbricoides after two years of mass treatment (from 2008 to 2010).
"A reduction was seen since the main interventions against these diseases started in 2008," she points out, adding that an updated countrywide prevalence survey will be once again conducted during this year.
The health professional attribute the reduction to great effort made to contain the situation by providing preventive chemotherapy - the use of drugs to treat the diseases, encouraging good hygienic practices such as wash hands especially after handling any animals, handling feces of any kind, using the toilet whether home or public, wearing shoes in soiled areas, and the use of inspected meat and clean water among others.
So far, there are three health workers in each village to ensure that all these good health practices are well respected.
Though there has been a significant reduction of the diseases, but intestinal parasites still come almost on top of all cases consulted in health facilities.
Intestinal parasites for instance occupied the second cause of outpatient consultation with a rate of 11.3% of the top 30 causes of outpatient consultations in health centers and the ninth cause with a rate of 2.7% of the top 30 outpatient consultation causes in hospitals.
Though the parasitic diseases can rarely lead death, but the diseases in children lead to physical disfigurement and intellectual development, school performance and reduced attendance, according to Jean de Dieu Ngirabega, the director general of clinical services at the health ministry.
Pregnant women affected by a hookworm infection can also develop aneamia which results in negative outcomes both for the mother and the infant. Some of them are low birth weight, impaired milk production, as well as increased risk of death for the mother and the baby.
Generally, children of all ages are often at the higher risk to develop parasitic diseases such as giardiasis and cryptosporidiosis from swallowing contaminated water during swimming, playing, and other activities in contaminated recreational water such as pools, fountains, lakes, rivers and streams among others.
Until now, Schistosoma mansoni, Hookworm, T. trichiura and Ascaris lumbricoides are the most prevalent parasitic diseases found countrywide. Though the progress made so far, but the health professional sees that there is still a room for improvement to the point that the diseases will not be a health concern in the country.
"Our plan is to reduce the prevalence and intensity of these diseases in Rwanda until they will be no longer a problem of public health," she recently told The Rwanda Focus.
Dr Karema notes that strategies such as strengthening government ownership and fostering partnerships for the control and elimination of targeted Neglected Tropical Diseases at national, district and community level are underway to contain the diseases.
NTD case management and surveillance is also being integrated into existing health systems. To deal with the issue based on facts, the health sector is also developing and promoting an integrated NTD monitoring and evaluation framework, and improves monitoring of NTDs within the context of national health information systems.
WHO estimates the worldwide prevalence of parasitic diseases to be approximately 12 million cases, with annual mortality of about 60 000 while the size of the population at risk is about 350 million.