Neglected tropical diseases

WHO convenes experts to sustain progress against soil-transmitted helminthiases and schistosomiasis

25 November 2016 | Geneva −− The World Health Organization (WHO) will convene an important meeting to accelerate efforts towards achieving a minimum coverage of 75% of the world’s preschool-aged and school-aged children treated for soil transmitted helminthiases (intestinal worms) and schistosomiasis (bilharzia) and reducing the incidence of these infections in young populations.

The three-day meeting (29 November – 1 December) comes at a critical juncture as countries implement large-scale treatment programmes. Topics of discussion will include finding ways to encourage the production of medicines and ensure their availability to meet growing demand, future plans to reach adult populations, and the development of an appropriate methodology to verify interruption of transmission.

We’ll discuss how to increase treatment in high transmission zones and optimally collaborate with sectors such as water, sanitation and hygiene and to coordinate and synchronize the work of all implementing partners to rally behind the efforts of Ministries of Health of endemic countries” said Dr Gautam Biswas, Coordinator of the Preventive Chemotherapy and Transmission Control unit, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “There’s also a need to conduct more surveys to evaluate the impact of current interventions as well as to develop affordable and more sensitive diagnostic tests.

Schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminth infections are among the world’s most prevalent afflictions of humans who live in areas of poverty in the world. In 2001, the World Health Assembly endorsed a resolution urging endemic countries to combat such infections.

In order to control helminth infections, WHO recommends periodic administration of anthelmintic medicines (praziquantel for schistosomiasis and albendazole or mebendazole for soil-transmitted helminthiases). People most at risk are preschool-aged children, school-aged children and women of childbearing age (including pregnant women), and occupational groups such as fishermen and irrigation field workers for schistosomiasis.

For soil-transmitted helminth infections, large-scale treatment is recommended once a year in communities where the prevalence of disease is 20% and beyond, and for schistosomiasis where the prevalence is 10% and beyond.

Treatment of both diseases is strongly recommended in areas where they overlap.

WHO is collaborating with partners and the private sector to ensure the availability and provision of albendazole or mebendazole and praziquantel. The aim is to treat at least 100 million children of school age per year as well as adults who are at risk for both diseases.

Ashok Moloo

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