Ministry intensifies fight against bilharzia

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THE Ministry of Health and Child Care will next week conduct a countrywide Massive Drug Administration (MDA) programme as it intensifies its fight against bilharzia and intestinal worms in the country.

The programme, which is part of the country’s efforts to eradicate Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) in the country by 2020, will be launched in Manicaland Province and is expected to be rolled out to the provinces from January 19 to 23, 2015.

A two-day MDA refresher training workshop meant to prepare the programme ended yesterday in Bulawayo with Dr Portia Manangazira, the director for epidemiology and disease control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, appealing to members of the community to support the programme.

“Neglected tropical diseases such as bilharzia and intestinal worms have been in existence for a long time and people suffering from such diseases have been neglected. This programme started more than five years ago although some people have been living with parasites in their bodies for more than 15 years.

“It’s important for everybody to understand why we’re conducting this programme and I’d like to appeal to our communities to support it so that we eliminate these conditions and also avoid re-infections. The prevalence rate of the NTDs stands at 27 percent although it varies from district to district,” said Dr Manangazira.

She said the programme would be held at public health institutions and some selected centres. She said the programme was targeting children aged between two and 15 years for intestinal worms and five to 15 for bilharzia.

“We’ve some districts that are co-endemic, meaning that they’re affected by both bilharzia and intestinal worms while some will need to be administered for one of the two.

“A total of eight provinces have been affected by these tropical diseases and out of the 63 districts in the country, 57 are affected by bilharzia, while 47 are affected by intestinal worms. We’re aiming at the elimination of these conditions by 2020 and this programme is part of our efforts to push for that achievement,” said Dr Manangazira.

She said the country had eight tropical diseases to deal with but was dealing with only two at the moment.

“With financial support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef and other partners, I’m certain that these conditions will be eradicated by the targeted year.

“However, I want to appeal to communities to keep their environment clean because such diseases thrive in unhygienic conditions. The national prevalence survey conducted in 2010 indicated that the districts with the highest record of worms also have the highest prevalence of stunted growth among children,” she said.

Dr Manangazira acknowledged that the drugs could have side effects on children, which, however, was unlikely.

“We must appreciate that every medication comes with side effects but I want to assure the nation that this is a vital programme that will definitely promote good health in our communities.

“I want to advise parents to feed their children before the administration of the drugs and also closely monitor them after administration so that they quickly recognise any side-effects,” she said.

Also known as schistosomiasis, bilharzia is a type of infection caused by parasites that live in fresh water, such as rivers.

Among other symptoms such as producing blood from the genitals, Dr Manangazira said tropical diseases could cause infertility, genital complications, and lack of concentration among children under five, which interferes with their development.

She said affected people were more at risk of contracting HIV infections.

The workshop was attended by officials from various ministries and non-governmental organisations.

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