ON November 1, 2023, Zanzibaris, particularly residents in Pemba celebrated the launch of the first-ever, 'China-Aid schistosomiasis surveillance Centre in Zanzibar', with Mr Zhang Zhisheng, the Chinese Consul General in Zanzibar and Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, the Zanzibar Minister of Health officiating the colourful event.
Minister Mazrui, in his speech, stated that the battle against the disease remains a big challenge in Zanzibar's public health, and that all the 11 districts of Zanzibar are endemic for soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH) and all but one in Unguja are endemic for urogenital schistosomiasis (SCH) with prevalence ranging from 0.4 - 4.8 per cent.
He said in recent years, with the assistance from Chinese experts, effective results have been achieved in prevention and control of schistosomiasis in some areas of Zanzibar, expressing gratitude to the Chinese Health Commission of Jiangsu Province and government for strong support and for sending a group of experts to Zanzibar to carry out on-site work.
Consul General Zhang Zhisheng, in his speech, mentioned that support from China is implementation of the fast-developing Asian country's policy as this year marks the tenth anniversary of President Xi Jinping's proposal of the "Belt and Road" initiative and the sixtieth anniversary of the Chinese government's foreign medical aid.
China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a strategy initiated by the People's Republic of China that seeks to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth.
The ambassador explained that China and Zanzibar have long-standing friendly exchanges and have achieved commendable results in various fields, including trade, tourism, agriculture, education, construction works and health.
Mr Zhang expressed hope that the 'China aid schistosomiasis prevention project,' the group of experts, together with local professional and technical personnel in Zanzibar, would work together to establish a schistosomiasis prevention and control system and a long-term working mechanism suitable for Zanzibar and even other African countries.
"Initially, as a typical representative of China's public health aid abroad, the second phase of the China aid schistosomiasis prevention and control technology project was officially launched in September 2023," he said.
Following the completion of the first three-year pilot project, he explained that China has once again sent a group of experts to Zanzibar to carry out schistosomiasis prevention and control assistance work.
The establishment of schistosomiasis surveillance stations in grassroots community health service centres helps in the rapid detection and timely treatment, contributes to the monitoring and response to the national schistosomiasis epidemic in Zanzibar, and is beneficial to every individual and family threatened by the disease.
The function and responsibilities of the schistosomiasis surveillance station in Pemba, according to Dr Yuzheng Huang, Team leader, China-Zanzibar Project of Schistosomiasis Control, the roles of the centre include Epidemic Monitoring.
The surveillance station/Centre is responsible for regularly monitoring the local population for schistosomiasis. This involves collecting blood samples or other relevant biological samples to detect the presence and infection status of the parasitic worms. This helps in early detection of outbreaks and trends in transmission.
He said the centre also provides diagnostic services for schistosomiasis by testing samples from patients to confirm their infection and offering timely treatment, saying early detection and treatment can effectively reduce the spread and severity of the disease.
The centre also provides educational outreach to local residents about schistosomiasis to enhance their awareness of disease prevention and control. Additionally, the surveillance station may be involved in training local health workers and community volunteers to improve their professional expertise in schistosomiasis prevention and control.
Data Reporting and Information Sharing: Collecting monitoring data and regularly reporting epidemic dynamics to health departments and other relevant agencies. Timely information sharing helps health authorities implement effective response measures to prevent the spread of the disease.
Epidemic Response: In the event of an outbreak, the surveillance station should respond rapidly, collaborating with health departments to organise emergency interventions. This may include isolating infected individuals, providing treatment, reinforcing education efforts and taking other measures to minimise the spread of the disease.
In summary, the schistosomiasis surveillance centre plays a crucial role in the prevention and control of schistosomiasis. Through monitoring, diagnosis, education and data reporting, they provide comprehensive disease prevention and control services to local residents, helping to reduce the incidence and transmission risk of the disease.
Dr Huang said further that the established schistosomiasis surveillance stations enhanced the understanding of the epidemiological dynamics and changes in factors related to schistosomiasis in Zanzibar.
It emphasises the need to analyse the epidemic trends, assess changes in factors contributing to the prevalence of the disease, and promptly identify schistosomiasis outbreaks and potential transmission risks, taking timely intervention measures.
The scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of schistosomiasis prevention and control measures aims to provide a scientific basis for the development and improvement of strategies for schistosomiasis prevention and control, as well as for the verification of elimination efforts.
What is the schistosomiasis? Scientists and health experts explain Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia or snail fever, as a parasitic disease caused by several species of worms belonging to the genus Schistosoma. The parasites that cause schistosomiasis infect certain types of freshwater snails, which act as intermediate hosts.
The disease is prevalent in tropical and subtropical regions, particularly in parts of Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Humans become infected when they come into contact with water contaminated with the larvae (cercariae) of the parasitic worms.
The larvae penetrate the skin, develop into adult worms in the blood vessels, and release eggs. The eggs can then cause various health problems, such as inflammation, damage to organs and the formation of granulomas.
Schistosomiasis can manifest in different forms, including intestinal and urogenital, depending on the species of Schistosoma involved. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood in the urine and other complications.
Chronic infections can lead to severe health problems, including liver and spleen enlargement, bladder and kidney damage and an increased risk of other infections.
Preventive measures include avoiding contact with contaminated water, wearing protective clothing and mass drug administration in at-risk populations. Treatment usually involves the use of anti-parasitic medications.
Public health efforts also focus on improving sanitation and access to clean water to reduce transmission of the disease.