Female Genital Schistosomiasis: Diagnosis and Treatment

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A few weeks ago, I introduced Huffington Post readers to a group of important diseases that most had never heard of -- neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). In that piece, I mentioned one disease that has a particularly devastating impact on girls and women in developing countries -- female genital schistosomiasis (FGS). Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia or "snail fever," is a parasitic disease carried by fresh water snails. It is transmitted by contact with contaminated fresh water, so swimming, bathing, fishing and even domestic chores such as laundry and herding livestock can put people at risk of contracting the disease. Schistosomiasis infects more than 400 million people, mostly in sub-Sarahan Africa, where it is one of the…show more content…
Doctors from Oslo and Cornell have independently confirmed that these women have a 3-4 fold increase in the risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS. Not surprisingly, maps of the distribution of schistosomiasis and HIV/AIDS in Africa reveal extensive overlap in southern Africa, especially in Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The good news is that there is a low-cost drug, called praziquantel, which may prevent FGS and therefore also serve as a low-cost AIDS prevention strategy if it is administered annually to African girls and women beginning in their school-aged years. Currently, praziquantel is made generically and is available for 8 cents a tablet -- often two or three tablets administered at one time can help prevent FGS. In an earlier article published in the Public Library of Science I described this approach as "Africa's 32-cent solution for HIV/AIDS." Later in The Lancet ("Africa is desperate for praziquantel') my colleagues and I made an urgent plea to make praziquantel freely available. In response, Merck Serono, a division of the German pharmaceutical company Merck KgaA, committed to donating 250 million tablets in a January 30, 2012 announcement in London. Given the links between female genital schistosomaisis and HIV/AIDS, I have argued that large-scale AIDS treatment programs such as the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and

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