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Female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) is a neglected gynaecological condition affecting 56 million women and girls across Africa. Without treatment, FGS can lead to complications, such as bleeding during or after sexual intercourse, abortion, genital lesions, tumours or infertility.
Despite the severe impact of this condition, awareness of FGS amongst the medical profession remains low because it is not usually included in medical textbooks or training programmes. As a result, FGS is often misdiagnosed as a sexually transmitted infection. In addition, low awareness amongst the population in general means that women affected are stigmatised.
Country: Côte d’Ivoire
Implementing partners: Programme National de Lutte Contre les Maladies Tropicales Negligees a Chimiotherapie Preventive (PNLMTN-CP), the NTD programme within the Ministry of Health of Côte d’Ivoire
Timescale: April 2020 – October 2021
Funder: UK AID via the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD), within the Task Force for Global Health
In Côte d’Ivoire the risk of FGS infection is high* however preventive services are not routinely available to women. Recognising this challenge, Unlimit Health and our partners in the PNLMTN-CP, Ministry of Health in Côte d’Ivoire established a pilot study to assess if preventive treatment for FGS could be incorporated into the national health system. This strategy would ensure that women attending routine services for HIV/AIDS and female reproductive health, who are aged between 15 to 29 years old, are routinely offered FGS preventive treatment and also FGS prevention education to raise greater awareness of this disease.
The study took place in seven health centres in Soubré district in the country, and aimed to improve preventive treatment coverage in young women and find the best approach for integration of FGS services in the health system. The project trained the health workers within the centres to offer preventive treatment and to raise awareness of FGS prevention during routine consultations.
Unlimit Health is working closely with the PNLMTN-CP while they develop their National Strategy for FGS Prevention. Next steps will include scaling up of the integration services and securing funding to support this.
This pilot research has highlighted the lack of awareness and lack of services for FGS. Therefore, expanding the integration of service delivery in the health system, whilst considering innovative ways to overcome the challenges of increased health worker workload and reaching hard-to-reach women in the community, will be essential to effectively reach all women at-risk with preventive treatment and help to achieve the World Health Organization’s goal of universal health coverage by 2030.
* The World Health Organization classifies ‘high risk’ as a prevalence greater than 50%.