17 April 2017

Africa: #makingschistory - Wormzilla Invades Lake Geneva

press release

Geneva — Experts gather at Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit to demand more global action to tackle one of the world's biggest killers - schistosomiasis

On the eve of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA) has unveiled a giant worm on Lake Geneva. The 25m structure represents the parasitic worm of schistosomiasis (bilharzia) that causes significant suffering and death. Aiming to generate global attention, the GSA is calling for more concerted action to eliminate this disease. Hundreds of millions of people around the world are at risk of schistosomiasis: a silent water borne killer that lurks in freshwater lakes and rivers.

"Schistosomiasis is the biggest killer you've probably never heard of, and that's the problem. We want to bring the suffering that this disease causes to the attention of the world and policy makers as more awareness will lead to greater action. The giant worm on Lake Geneva is part of the #MakingSchistory global awareness campaign. We want to make history and consign schistosomiasis to the past. Together with our partners, the GSA is determined to cut the cycle of transmission & eliminate schistosomiasis," said Dr Johannes Waltz, Global Schistosomiasis Alliance.

The call for more global action to tackle schistosomiasis has been put into focus this year as the Merck-World Health Organization medicine donation programme marks its tenth year. This programme provides free praziquantel to children in Africa. To date 100 million children have been treated.

"We are confident that elimination of schistosomiasis is possible. We have made a lot of progress in the last 15 years but we need to do more. The availability of free treatment has enabled us to break the cycle of misery caused by schistosomiasis, improve the health of a generation of school aged children and protect them from the serious consequences of infection. The next steps will be to provide clean water and better sanitation which are needed to stop the suffering completely," said Professor Alan Fenwick, Professor of Tropical Parasitology, Imperial College London and Founder, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

Schistosomiasis kills 280,000 people every year in Africa alone. People can become infected with schistosomiasis when they come into contact with contaminated water while washing, playing or working. Infection is especially high in children and can cause anaemia, stomach pain and swelling, diarrhoea, bladder cancer as well as holding back their cognitive development and growth.

About #MakingSchistory

The #MakingSchistory campaign acknowledges the great steps taken in moving towards elimination of schistosomiasis, while recognising the need for stronger concerted efforts to keep fighting this dreadful infection until it is wiped out. As part of the #MakingSchistory campaign, the GSA will also be producing a report sharing real stories of the people involved in the fight to eliminate schistosomiasis - 'The people #MakingSchistory' - to be launched in May.

More information about the campaign can be found at: http://www.MakingSchistory.com.

About schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is a deadly tropical disease, caused by parasitic worms that live in freshwater. Freshwater snails carrying the parasite release swimming larvae that travel through the water until they come into contact with an individual and penetrate the skin. Inside the body, the larvae develop into worms which release eggs; some of these eggs then pass out of the body in urine and stools and some eggs remain trapped in the body, causing sickness and damage to organs.

To eliminate schistosomiasis four critical factors are fundamental:

Vector control - Measures to remove snails that spread schistosome worms

WASH - Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: facilities for adequate hygiene

Education - Awareness to prevent transmission and re-infection

Treatment - Access to praziquantel in the communities that need it

About the GSA

The GSA is an international coalition which brings together key partner organisations from governments, international organisations, leading health NGOs, academia, and the private sector, involved in the battle against schistosomiasis.

GSA members include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, World Vision and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, among others. More information about the GSA can be found online at http://www.eliminateschisto.org/.

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