With more than 3 million people in Yemen infected,Health Ministry to launch “Bilharzia Eradication” campaign [Archives:2008/1132/Local News]

February 25 2008

Mahmoud Assamiee
For Yemen Times

SANA'A, Feb. 20 ) In cooperation with international organizations, Yemen's Ministry of Public Health and Population will conduct a four-year campaign to fight Bilharzia, Phase one of which will launch next month.

“Bilharzia is a forgotten disease that's not a global issue,” WHO representative in Yemen Ghulam Rabbani stated Wednesday, indicating that Yemen and Sudan are the only Middle Eastern nations still suffering the disease. For this reason, WHO is conducting this campaign in Yemen.

“Bilharzia leads to incurable liver failure and, effectively, death,” Rabbani said, adding that several Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Afghanistan that suffered from the disease have succeeded in eradicating it completely through such campaigns and distributing anti-Bilharzia medicine to those infected.

“Just like it has succeeded in eradicating smallpox and polio, Yemen also can succeed in eradicating Bilharzia,” Rabbani stated.

According to WHO statistics, more than three million people in Yemen are infected with the disease, which means significant humanitarian and economic losses.

On Wednesday, WHO and the Ministry of Public Health and Population organized a meeting in Sana'a for WHO and World Bank officials to discuss with more than 30 journalists representing various media outlets in Yemen the role of media in health campaigns and the prospects and mechanisms for the Bilharzia eradication campaign, which will launch its first phase March 11 in six governorates.

At the opening session of the meeting entitled, “Media's Role in Carrying out Bilharzia Eradication in Yemen,” Rabbani highlighted the dangers of the disease and the media's important role in enlightening citizens about WHO's message in making this campaign – the first of its kind in Yemen – successful.

Ibrahim Al-Karadani, regional advisor for WHO information, noted that the campaign will target children between ages 6 and 18 in 36 districts in six governorates: Mahwit, Al-Dhale', Taiz, Abyan, Dhamar and Lahj. The children will be given anti-Bilharzia tablets at their schools, as well as asked to bring their friends who aren't registered in school to come to take the medicine.

Bilharzia infection occurs in freshwater containing larval forms (cercariae) of schistosomes, which develop in snails. The free-swimming larvae penetrate the skin of those swimming or wading in the water.

Abdullah Osheish, director-general of the National Anti-Bilharzia Program, said phase one of 2008 campaign targets 34 percent of the population between ages 6 and 18 – 68 percent of them in schools and 32 percent outside.

He added that the six million tablets costing $740,000 will be administered to children at their schools by 7,460 workers, 4,000 of which are teachers.

“It's been proven that attempting to combat Bilharzia via traditional means, such as banning children from swimming in dirty water, yields lesser profit than administering medicine,” Al-Karadani noted.

He clarified that while it's difficult to monitor or eradicate all polluted waters and sources of Bilharzia, administering the anti-Bilharzia medicine over four years to the targeted children will be like vaccinating them against the disease. Doing so will cut the disease's life cycle and then it will vanish in Yemen, as happened in Egypt.

Riadh Bin Ismail, advisor to the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean's Regional Office, addressed potential rumors among locals who may doubt the medication's impact, saying, “These anti-Bilharzia tablets are approved internationally under medical observation and with no side effects. They are administered to children between ages 6 and 18, whether they are infected or not.”

However, he advised parents in the targeted governorates to “feed their children before going to those schools distributing the anti-Bilharzia medicine.”

Fawzia Hamid, director of the World Bank's Loan Unit, noted that the cost of such medicine is much less than the expense of distributing it to the targeted group. “This process must continue and journalists must enlighten citizens about the necessity of giving their children this medicine in order to save their lives.”