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Schistosomiasis through the eyes of a father and son

5 April 2023

“We have become like birds. For a bird works for a day’s food only. The next day they have to find another thing for that particular day. This is due to the limited capacity to produce.”

Suleiman at work. Image by: Unlimit Health/William Mgobelo

This is how Suleiman Salum describes what he does for a living. Suleiman lives in Tasini village in Pemba, Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. He is a farmer, but also sells scrap metal.   

Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms. It affects people who come into contact with contaminated water, in areas affected by poverty and low access to basic essential services.

Schistosomiasis is a painful and unpleasant disease to live with. It keeps children out of school and adults out of work. It can cause reduced cognitive development, anaemia, fatigue and weakness, and infection can result in reduced educational attainment, productivity and capacity for work, contributing to poverty and reduced food security.   

Suleiman recounts his first experience with the disease: 

Suleiman and his son Said. Image by: Unlimit Health/William Mgobelo

I felt a little bit uncomfortable when passing urine. I had pain and the urine was thick. I felt pain, the colour was also different. I then decided to go to hospital. The results were positive for schistosomiasis, so I was given the medicine and started the dose immediately.

I found out recently that my kids were having the same complications. 

When I came back at around 7pm in the evening, my son said:I feel pain whenever I go to the toilet and the urine comes with blood.” [My other son] reported the same. I took both to hospital the next morning. They found out they had the disease.” 

Suleiman’s son, Said, shares his experience of schistosomiasis: 

“I started feeling uncomfortable and had pain. I stopped going to the lake because I was not feeling well. At the hospital, I was given a small can and asked to go to the toilet to bring my urine for samples. After the test, I was told I had schistosomiasis. Then I was given medication for schistosomiasis and worms.” 

Like most medicines, there are mild side effects associated with praziquantel – the recommended treatment against schistosomiasis.

Abdallah Mbarouk Saleh, Clinical Officer. Image by: Unlimit Health/William Mgobelo

It is true that medication for some people can be a problem, even when they are ill, especially for children. But we make them aware of the effects of the disease and give parents advice on how to give the drugs to their children said the Clinical Officer, Abdallah Mbarouk Saleh, at the Tundauwa Health Centre in Pemba, Zanzibar.

This is why there is a protocol for administering the drug to make sure that any side effects are minimised, as confirmed by Suleiman: 

After the tests were confirmed, the children were measured and the drugs were administered according to their height. They asked me whether the kids had eaten. I said they had not taken anything yet.  I was therefore advised to feed them first before taking the drugs 

 After work in the evening, I decided to give them the drugs as they were going to sleep. I cut the pills into small pieces for them to be taken easily. I made sure they had been properly taken according to the doctor’s instructions. I did the same for the [other] anti-worm drugs.” 

Clinical officer holding praziquantel. Image by: Unlimit Health/William Mgobelo

Unlimit Health works closely with the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Zanzibar to eliminate parasitic diseases like schistosomiasis, so that people like Suleiman and his children can live free from limiting disease.

Our support includes ensuring that medicines are delivered where they are needed most, measuring coverage so those who need treatment receive it. Also, working with the MoH on impact assessments to further refine their strategy for treating people and that resources are most effectively targeted to the areas and people at risk. 

The purpose of treatment is always to save lives and protect others from being infected. It will help us to avoid further consequences of the effects of this disease [schistosomiasis]. It is very important and helps our communities a lot. As health experts we need to continue to teach people about their health, especially to the infected persons to be encouraged to come out of their homes for treatmentadded Abdalla, the Clinical Officer. 

Said is happy he is healthy to be able to play football. Image by: Unlimit Health/William Mgobelo

As for Said, he is delighted to be able to play football again: 

 Before the treatment, I was playing games but felt uncomfortable. I was really unhappy. But now I am happy and can play games to the end.” 

His father concludes: When they are healthy, they can comfortably continue with other activities, as well as giving me freedom to continue with by business. When they are ill, I am stuck.”