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Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2001;96 Suppl:17-27.

Schistosomiasis epidemiology and control: how did we get here and where should we go?

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Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.


Although a disease of great antiquity, scientific studies of schistosomiasis began only 150 years ago. The complete life-cycle was not described until just before the First World War, making it possible at last to plan proper community control programmes. Inadequate tools prevented their effective implementation until well after the Second World War when new tools became available, thanks to the newly formed World Health Organization. Molluscicides spearheaded control programmes until the late 1970s but were then replaced by the newly developed, safe drugs still used today. Whatever the method used, the initial goal of eradication was, in the light of experience and cost, gradually replaced by less ambitious targets; first to stop transmission and then to reduce morbidity. The most successful programmes combined several methods to minimise reinfection after chemotherapy. Comparisons between different programmes are difficult without using appropriate, standardised diagnostic techniques and the correct epidemiological measurements. Some examples will be presented, mainly from our studies on Schistosoma mansoni in Kenya. Drug resistance on a scale comparable with malaria has not occurred in schistosomiasis but the likely withdrawal of all drugs except praziquantel leaves its control extremely vulnerable to this potential problem. An effective, affordable vaccine for use in endemic countries is unlikely to be ready for at least 5 years, and developing strategies for its use could take a further decade or more, judging from experience with drugs and molluscicides. In the interim, by analogy with malaria, the most cost-effective approach would the use of drugs combined with other methods to stop transmission, including molluscicides. The cost of molluscicides needs to be reduced and fears allayed about their supposedly adverse ecological effects.

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