Addressing schistosomiasis with water infrastructure and monitoring.


Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia or 'snail fever', is a parasitic disease affecting an estimated 258 million people in 78 countries worldwide. It kills an estimated 280,000 people annually and ranks second only to malaria as the most common parasitic disease. Control of the disease focuses on treatment with the drug praziquantel, a single dose of which reduces the burden of infection and severity of symptoms. However, rapid re-infection is common.

Education campaigns about the risks of exposure to contaminated water and improved water supply and sanitation should in theory break the life cycle of the disease. Unfortunately however, there is very limited and incomplete information available regarding the effectiveness of water treatment processes at removing or inactivating the infective stages of the parasite. Also, there are no rapid means for detecting the parasite in water samples and thus determining risk of infection.

WISER is a three-year research programme aiming to address these gaps in critical knowledge through a collaboration between water engineers, synthetic biologists, parasitologists, and social scientists in the UK, Ethiopia and Tanzania, in the hope of developing invaluable new knowledge to guide the design of sustainable water infrastructure for schistosomiasis-endemic regions.

Image credit: David Williams, Illinois State University