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Communities in Uganda in the driving seat of efforts to eliminate schistosomiasis

31 March 2023

Nyende is a Village Health Team Worker in Buwaiswa, Uganda. He’s one of many health workers assisting the Ministry of Health to deliver health promotion messages to communities.

People’s livelihoods in Buwaiswa include fishing and agriculture, both of which require contact with water. However, many of the water sources in Buwaiswa are contaminated with parasites as a result of inadequate water and sanitation services, putting communities in this village at risk of schistosomiasis (bilharzia).

Nyende explains:

“In Buwaiswa, people get bilharzia from the water, because most are fishermen, but some grow rice, tomatoes and yams on the lake shores. If the bilharzia parasites are in the water, they get infected.”

For this rural community, the cost of the disease is high. In Uganda, around 1.75 million people are currently not receiving treatment and over two million are vulnerable to re-infection.

“Bilharzia has affected this area by bringing poverty, because they must use their savings to fund their treatment. People are sending their children to sub-standard schools because the little money they have, is spent on treatment”.

But through the Ministry of Health, Nyende has received training to advise people on how to prevent this disease.

“As the VHT Coordinator, I encourage people to build latrines and to use them well. These people must avoid swimming, farming in the wetlands or fetching water without wearing gumboots because those are all the ways we can contract bilharzia. I’m requesting the government and non-governmental organisations to continue to support us by bringing awareness to this area for people to better understand how to avoid getting bilharzia.”

Unlimit Health works to end parasitic disease working in partnership with the ministries of health in affected countries, like Uganda.

Children swimming in the lake in Buwaiswa. Image by: Unlimit Health/Malaika Media

Last year, Unlimit Health worked with the Uganda Ministry of Health and RANAS Ltd to carry out a pilot project in Buwaiswa and in nearby communities to identify the community-specific causes of schistosomiasis transmission. 

The results will be used to implement community-driven solutions, as well as water and sanitation services to reduce the risk of disease in an initial six communities, with a view to further scale up in the future.