Schistosomiasis – one of the most widespread neglected tropical diseases – is transmitted through water-borne parasitic worms. Long-term chronic infection impacts on the nutritional and mental development of children and might lead to severe liver and kidney diseases. It also increases risks of bladder cancer and HIV infection.
In Lao PDR, the national worm control program within the Ministry of Health is successfully combatting this threat. Along the Mekong River – where snails act as intermediate hosts of the disease – 10 island communities have effectively eliminated schistosomiasis as a public health problem, where around 5,000 people live. Such progress is the result of improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and health education, along with mass drug administration of deworming treatments (such as praziquantel, and benzimidazole).
The Lao National Institute of Public Health, in collaboration with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, has successfully launched a latrine promotion program to help prevent parasite eggs in human faeces from reaching the river where the intermediate host snails live. Furthermore, the government has implemented health education measures to encourage the use of latrines. The sustained and regular provision of community deworming has been extended to include domesticated animals that also carry the parasite.
In addition to stopping schistosomiasis transmission, these measures are helping to tackle other intestinal worms and infections related to poor hygiene. The integrated approach is providing a sustainable solution for the people of the Mekong River Basin and a model for other communities that are challenged by this deadly parasite.