Training set to tackle Zanzibar health problem

ON 15th December last year, Mr Khamis Bilali Ali, In-charge and Coordinator of the Ministry of Health in Pemba Island, and the Deputy Director of China Jiangsu Institute of Parasitic Diseases (JIPD), Dr Yang Kun, officiated the first ‘schistosomiasis detection capacity award ceremony,’ after two months training for medical laboratory technicians.

A total of 25 Primary Health Care Unit (PHCU) workers from the island were among those invited to attend the ceremony. The training focused on strengthening the capacity building of schistosomiasis detection in Zanzibar.

“In order to achieve full coverage in Pemba Island as soon as possible, the technical team of China-Zanzibar Schistosomiasis Control Project carried out training in PHCU, including theoretical training and practical operation,” explained Dr Kun.

Dr Kun said that schistosomiasis is still raging in Zanzibar,

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,” he said, saying this proverb is often used to illustrate the importance of teaching someone how to do something instead of simply doing it for them.

Dr Kun used the saying to emphasise that in order to achieve the eradication goal, they must rely on local grassroots forces, according to China’s successful experience in controlling schistosomiasis.

Schistosomiasis is an acute and chronic parasitic disease caused by blood flukes (trematode worms) of the genus Schistosoma. Estimates show that at least 251.4 million people required preventive treatment in 2021. Preventive treatment, which should be repeated over a number of years, will reduce and prevent morbidity.

He said that Zanzibar urgently needs to carry out PHCU training on schistosomiasis prevention and control, and through recent training, a team that will provide great help at the grass-roots medical institutions has been established.

Mr Khamis Bilali Ali on his part said more than 35 laboratory technicians across the island participated in the training in four batches.

“The training which lasted for two months was conducted by Dr Wang Xinyao, an expert from China Schistosomiasis Control Project,” he said.

Mr Saleh Juma Muhammed, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) coordinator in Pemba and other NTD staff stakeholders also helped in the training.

Dr Xinyao said, “In order to test the ability and training results of the trainees, after the training, the trainees were evaluated in theory and skills, and grade certificates were issued according to the assessment results, so as to establish a team for local schistosomiasis detection team.”

The trainees thanked the Chinese experts for their teaching, saying the training allowed them to systematically learn the knowledge of schistosomiasis and learn important laboratory operation skills, which will help to better work on schistosomiasis detection in PHCU.

PRESIDENT Hussein Ali Mwinyi in a group photo with senior officers from China Embassy in Tanzania and members of the China Zanzibar Schistosomiasis control Project, and officers from the Zanzibar Ministry of Health after the launch of the project under the Zanzibar/China collaboration last year at the Zanzibar State House. (file photo)

Xinyao said that after the establishment of schistosomiasis surveillance station/centre, combined with the improvement of the personnel training, schistosomiasis surveillance can be carried out in Zanzibar, and it marks the 10th anniversary of the “Belt and Road Initiative” and the 60th anniversary of China’s medical aid to other countries.

The Belt and Road Initiative is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organisations.

Dr Xinyao said that as a typical representative of China’s public health aid, the expert group of the China-Zanzibar Schistosomiasis Control Project, will work with the Zanzibar government and other agencies to gather more PHCU forces to build a schistosomiasis prevention and control system in Zanzibar.

“We will work together to eliminate schistosomiasis as soon as possible in Zanzibar,” he underlined. Health experts say that lack of hygiene and certain playing habits of school-aged children such as swimming or fishing in infested water make them especially vulnerable to infection.

World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic and work to mitigate its impacts decreased the provision of neglected tropical disease (NTD) interventions and the treatment coverage for schistosomiasis.

The China-Zanzibar Schistosomiasis Control Project is expected to give data and update on the health problem. Schistosomiasis control focuses on reducing the disease through periodic, large-scale population treatment with praziquantel; a more comprehensive approach including potable water, adequate sanitation and snail control would also reduce transmission.

People become infected when larval forms of the parasite – released by freshwater snails – penetrate the skin during contact with infested water while transmission occurs when people suffering from schistosomiasis contaminate freshwater sources with faeces or urine containing parasite eggs, which hatch in water.

Schistosomiasis is prevalent in tropical and subtropical areas, especially in poor communities without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. It is estimated that at least 90 per cent of those requiring treatment for schistosomiasis live in Africa.

Schistosomiasis mostly affects poor and rural communities, particularly agricultural and fishing populations. Women doing domestic chores in infested water, such as washing clothes, are also at risk and can develop female genital schistosomiasis.

Symptoms of schistosomiasis are caused mainly by the body’s reaction to the worms’ eggs. The intestinal schistosomiasis can result in abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in the stool.

The economic and health effects of schistosomiasis are considerable and the disease disables more than it kills. In children, schistosomiasis can cause anaemia, stunting and a reduced ability to learn, although the effects are usually reversible with treatment.

Chronic schistosomiasis may affect people’s ability to work and, in some cases, can result in death. The number of deaths due to schistosomiasis is difficult to estimate because of hidden pathologies such as liver and kidney failure, bladder cancer and ectopic pregnancies due to female genital schistosomiasis.

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