In a new perspective piece published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and colleagues are calling for the expansion of preventive treatment programs in Africa for female genital schistosomiasis. 

Schistosoma haemotobium egg

Schistosomiasis is a deadly parasitic infection that often is chronic and debilitating. Its toll on society can be measured in terms of loss of life due to premature death and loss of healthy life and productivity caused by poor health and disability. Approximately 40 million girls and women with schistosomiasis suffer with a form of the infection, known as female genital schistosomiasis, or FGS. It is a cause of pain, bleeding and social stigma, but it also is emerging as one of the most common gynecological conditions on the African continent. FGS results in adverse gynecologic, mental health and social consequences. In addition, it has become an important co-factor in the acquisition of HIV.

Praziquantel, a highly effective antiparastic drug used in the treatment of schistosomiasis, has the potential to prevent the onset of genital lesions linked to female genital schistosomiasis. Researchers are calling for African nations to incorporate praziquantel preventive treatment into ongoing HIV/AIDS programs and cervical cancer prevention.

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“Female genital schistosomiasis is now one of the most important afflictions of African girls and women who live in extreme poverty,” said Hotez. “Yet for decades this condition has been neglected as a major threat to sexual and reproductive health. Increasingly, we must recognize the implications of female genital schistosomiasis as a devastating infectious disease affecting reproductive health in Africa.”