Since the 2000s, we have known that female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) is likely the most neglected gynecologic condition and HIV/AIDS cofactor across sub-Saharan Africa. To date, the global health and HIV/AIDS communities have not used the opportunity to prevent new HIV/AIDS infections through highly cost-effective schistosomiasis control and elimination in Africa. But recently, this situation may be shifting toward the better.
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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 most common parasitic infections on the continent.
But one form of the disease has particular repercussions for women and their health and reproductive systems — FGS. It causes horrific pain and bleeding in the uterus, cervix and lower genital tract, not to mention social stigma and depression. Right now, more than 100 million women and girls in Africa could suffer from this form of schistosomiasis.
Chagas disease — a parasitic infection transmitted through an insect commonly known as the “kissing bug” — is one of the most common infections among pregnant women in the Western Hemisphere. It can be found all over Latin American, from Mexico and Central America to Paraguay and Argentina. Cases of Chagas disease are now widely prevalent throughout south Texas and may be spreading to other areas of the U.S. Read the rest here
Globally, an estimated 1,000 women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth complications — the majority of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Both of these regions have a disproportionally high burden of diseases known as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). While NTDs affect men, women, and children, one NTD in particular, hookworm, has devastating effects for pregnant women.
Hookworm is an intestinal parasitic infection causes severe blood loss, anemia, and malnutrition. These effects are particularly harmful to pregnant women and their unborn children: long-term blood loss from hookworms increases a mother’s risk of dying during childbirth. While hemorrhaging during pregnancy is not uncommon, African women are more likely to die from it because they are severely anemic even before they begin labor. Hemorrhage accounts for roughly one third of the pregnancy-related deaths in Africa.
It’s not easy to introduce neglected tropical diseases, or NTDs, to first time audiences. The truth is they may be the most important diseases of girls and women you have never heard of. Few people in the U.S. know about female genital schistosomiasis, hookworm, Chagas disease, trachoma, river blindness or elephantiasis. But taken together, these diseases have a higher health burden than malaria and tuberculosis, and rival that of HIV/AIDS.
Almost every woman or girl living on less than $1.25 (USD) a day in Africa, Asia and the Americas — one half of the world’s “bottom billion” — is infected by one or more NTD. But the most shocking aspect of NTDs isn’t the devastation they can cause to poor communities; it’s the affordability of its solution. It often only costs 50 cents, on average, to treat and protect one person against all seven major NTDs for an entire year. By controlling and eliminating these infections, we can offer one of the best shots for changing the future for those women and girls who live in such abject poverty.