Some participants at the bilharzia forum

THE FIRST ever National Schistosomiasis Control Forum has been held at Akosombo with the view to developing an integrated national plan to control schistosomiasis (bilharzia) in the country.

Bilharzia which is water borne is very common in communities along river courses and the Volta Lake. It is estimated that over 15 million people especially children and teenagers are infected annually.

Research shows the disease which is the second most socio-economically devastating parasitic infection in Ghana is most widespread in all 170 districts of the country and could also occur in peri-urban areas.

Schistosomiasis or bilharzia-infected people suffer conditions such as blood in the urine and stool, bladder cancer, kidney malfunction and disease of the liver.

Research also shows a high occurrence in genital schistosomiasis resulting in infertility, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, erectile dysfunction and increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections including HIV.

The forum was made possible by the Ghana Health Services (GHS), World Health Organization (WHO), Volta River Authority (VRA), Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research of the University of Ghana and the Community Directed Development Foundation (Africa) 

It was attended by participants from the Water Resources Institute, Community Water and Sanitation, the Ghana Education Service, DCEs, chiefs and opinion leaders from the affected communities.

Speaking at the forum, Programmes Manager for the Neglected Tropical Disease Control Programme of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Nana Kojo Britwum said the disease reduces productivity in infected adults and limits growth in the agriculture, water, health and tourism sectors which eventually undermines the attainment of the country’s Millennium Development Goals.

He said the strategic objective of the GHS is to target and treat at least 80% of all endemic areas with antihelminthics (praziquantel) and also help educate populations who at risk in all endemic communities.

Prof. K.M. Bosompem, President of Community Directed Development Foundation (CDDF) who also spoke at the forum said education programmes must be intensified to assist in the prevention and management of the disease.

According to him, there should be community involvement and ownership of control and management of the disease adding that farmers, traders and fisher folk in endemic areas must also be supported since the disease is poverty-related.

It was uncovered during the forum that most endemic areas especially those along the Volta River and Volta Dam are inaccessible by road therefore small aircrafts must be acquired to get access to these areas for patients to be treated.

From Thomas Fosu Jnr, Akosombo

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