- Published on Friday, 17 August 2012 01:51
- Written by GIFT MACHA
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RECENT reports have confirmed that about 60 per cent of schoolchildren and adults in Mwanza region are infected with bilharzia, according to a new study carried out by the Score Project under the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). Our Correspondent GIFT MACHA talked to a senior scientist and incharge of the project Dr Safari Kinung’hi. Excerpts...
Q: How do you explain the problem of Bilharzia in Mwanza region?
A: First of all it is important to know that Bilharzia is becoming even more acute in some parts in Tanzania. Recent study has revealed that about 60 per cent. The most affected people in Mwanza region are children aged between 10 and 14 years old.
Q: How does the NIMR address the problem?
A: In the first place, we had in recent past conducted a study to ascertain the magnitude of Bilharzia in the region and as I hinted before over 60 per cent of those diagnosed were found infected with the disease.
Q: What was the essence of the 2010 study on Bilharzia in Mwanza region?
A: The study was carried out in thirty seven (37) villages in Magu district, nine villages in Ilemela, seven villages in Nyamagana, four villages in Misungwi, 55 villages in Sengerema and 38 in Geita. A total of 27,926 schoolchildren and 5,446 adults were tested and 60 per cent were diagnosed to have been infected with the disease. In other words, in every 10 people tested, six were diagnosed to have been infected with bilharzia.
Thus the bilharzia prevalence in Mwanza has surpassed the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard and that concerted efforts are needed to arrest the situation.The project was geared to improving strategies for fighting against the disease as well as providing medication for the infected people.
Q: Why high level of transmission in some areas?
A: Bilharzia and other related diseases are very common in areas where there is abject poverty. The most vulnerable are the rural areas where even people’s standard of living is subtantially low. Thus a low living standard together with a high level of poverty together with the present of big water bodies like Lake Victoria provide the conducive environment for the disease.
Q: What are the major symptoms of Bilharzia to the infected people?
A: Typically, many people experience some or all of the following; bodypains, headaches, neck pains, eye pains, swollen eyes (also called proptosis), swollen lipsand faces, abdominal pains, swollen testicles, skin rashes called erythema, itching, restlessness, chest pains, coughing, fevers, diarrhoea, blood in stools, blood in urine and throat inflammation.
Q: What is the effects of the disease to human body?
A: This kind of infection is potentially destructive to the internal organs especially the liver and the nervous system. In heavy infections, worms may lodge outside their usual habitats in the mesenteric or urinary blood vessels, for example in the spine or brain.
Therefore the above symptoms are just warnings of what can happen in the future if treatment is ignored. Normally the disease tend to progress in a slow pace and infection can remain in the human body even for 20-35 years depending on the number of worms before producing serious damage to the liver or bladder.
Q: What sampling technique were used to provide treatment to the affected population?
A: The modus operandi was of course in different ways.The affected people were given a chance to choose the places where they could seek treatment. In rural areas, for example, the medical officers were deployed and given special training how to provide medication to the people in needy. While in urban areas the medical practitioners were also deployed for the same purpose.
Q: To what extent did the treatment campaign succeed?
A: Our first projection was simply to reach 100 per cent in providing treatment to the people in needy.However, the medical distribution reached only 75 per cent.
Thus we could accomplish the entire mission due to a number of hurdles such as meagre resources, shortage of competent human resource personnel, just to mention a few. The effectivess of tratment in the target areas was almost 90 per cent. It is also important to note that a rate of prevalence differed from one place to the other. The rate ranged between 26 to 100 per cent.
Q: Were there any problems the NIMR encountered during the treatment?
A: A major stumbling block at this juncture is a lack of public awareness. Some people escaped medical treatment for the fear for unkonwn reasons. Some people also experienced severe effects such as vomiting and headache. In some cases some people were resistant to the medication.
Q: What is your appeal to people who are reluctant to get treatment?
A: The people should always come for test and to take medical treatment. Residents should strive to fulfill their responsibilities because we are serving them. Thus, if they won’t participate that means our project may not highly succeed in eradicating the disease.
Q: What are the future plans?
A: We are now making preparations to conduct another study so that we can evaluate the success for our previous projects. Our fundamental objective is to look for effective ways of eradicating the disease in the region. A current project is therefore expected to continue up to the year 2015.
But a schedule for the Bilharzia campaign at national level would continue to be carried by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare till the year 2030. So after the end of the ongoing project we expect to embark on a new project which will be of significant advantage to the people and nation at large.
Q: Is there anything you would like to tell the general public?
A: I think it is important for the government and other stakeholders to continue their support in fighting Bilharzia in Mwanza region. The people should also inculcate a habit of cleaning their toilets and use clean and safe water as a requisite to prevent transmission of the disease in respective areas.