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Grant of $30 Million to Establish the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative to Give Hope to Developing Countries

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Tony Stephenson
Imperial College Press Office
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SEATTLE and LONDON -- Imperial College London today announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given a grant of $30 million (£20 million) to establish the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), a partnership at Imperial College London including the foundation, the World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health.  

Schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease that leads to chronic ill-health and affects more than 200 million people in developing countries. Approximately 600 million people are at risk of contracting the disease because they live in tropical regions where water supply and sanitation are inadequate or non-existent.

The primary goals of the SCI are to identify the most heavily infected regions in at least four African countries, provide health education to the people in those regions, treat victims of schistosomiasis and monitor the impact of the treatment program.  By demonstrating that more effective control of schistosomiasis can be achieved in the selected countries, the initiative will provide a model that can be emulated in other countries affected by this disease.

The SCI will develop local and international partnerships to improve training and treatment delivery, and to assist other African nations in the development of national control plans and research programs. The SCI will also work with existing organizations to improve the delivery of the treatment. For example, it will add an annual drug treatment to the food deliveries provided by the World Food Program, an organization that reaches several million children. 

Dr Alan Fenwick, Director of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, comments: "The misery and suffering caused by schistosomiasis are so unnecessary. There is a treatment, Praziquantel, which is safe, effective, and reasonably priced. The challenge now is to deliver this treatment to places like sub-Saharan Africa where the drug has never been available.  This grant will help us make that possible."

"Stopping the spread of infectious disease is a key priority for the foundation," said Sally Stansfield, M.D., Acting Director of Infectious Disease and Vaccines Program for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  "By creating a successful prevention and treatment program that can be emulated in countries around the world, SCI has the opportunity to make a major impact in the fight against schistosomiasis."

Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College, adds: "This is a very exciting opportunity for Imperial College to work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, and Harvard University to play a part in attempting to alleviate the enormous burden of suffering and death caused by infectious disease in Africa.  The implementation of the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative and the complementary research program fits neatly into Imperial College's expanding portfolio of medical research programs in international health."

Schistosomiasis is a worm parasite which currently affects over 200 million people in the tropics, where water supply and sanitation are inadequate or non-existent. 

The microscopic parasite, which multiplies in fresh water snails, enters the human body through the skin when people come into contact with fresh water.

After entering the body, the parasite travels to the liver, where it grows to a worm about a centimeter in length.  Male and female worms pair up and then live for many years in the blood vessels around the bladder and intestine, feeding off the blood.  Female worms lay many eggs, which escape from the body back to the water during urination and defecation.

In heavy infections, thousands of eggs escape from the body daily, but do so by rupturing capillary blood vessels causing heavy blood loss.  Those eggs, which do not escape, become trapped in the liver, causing a blockage and extreme damage, eventually leading to death.

Those most at risk of schistosomiasis are school-age children, women, and those involved in occupations such as irrigation farming and fishing. 

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