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An anti-parasitic drug will be rolled out on mass scale in the Solomon Islands to prevent scabies, a contagious, intensely itchy skin condition that affects a third of the nation’s children.

Scabies mite/CDC

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Sarah Andersson and Professor Andrew Steer from the World Scabies Program are leading the mass drug administration (MDA) program with the Solomon Islands’ Ministry of Health and Medical Services, which will deliver ivermectin to the whole population. It’s the first country-wide MDA in the world for the treatment of scabies.

After a successful trial in Fiji, led by the Murdoch Children’s, the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services of Fiji, where ivermectin was administered to over 130,000 Fijians, the program is now being delivered on a mass scale to a whole country, a world first, in the Solomon Islands where scabies is a significant public health problem.

Scabies is caused by a mite that burrows into the skin. The highly contagious disease causes itching, which can lead to complications such as severe skin infections and serious bacterial infections, bloodstream infections, kidney failure and heart disease.

The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like rash, and it can be cured with medications that are safe and affordable.

“Scabies affects everyone, especially young children,” Ms Andersson, program manager said. Rolling out the treatment for scabies to all communities in the Solomon Islands at the same time will contribute significantly to stopping the spread of scabies and preventing this debilitating condition.”

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About a quarter of all people in the Solomon Islands have scabies at any one time, and children have the highest burden of disease with a third of children under 10 years affected.

Professor Steer said, “our research shows MDA could reduce the prevalence of scabies by 90 per cent after just one treatment, which could have a huge impact on children in the region.

“Research from the Murdoch Children’s SHIFT trial and Big SHIFT trial has also shown that reducing scabies prevalence through MDA can also reduce skin infections such as impetigo (a common bacterial infection) up to 65 per cent and hospital admissions due to skin infections more than 15 per cent.”

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Ms Andersson said the entire Solomon Islands population would be treated for scabies regardless of age and gender, and even people without scabies could receive ivermectin as a preventative measure. Vulnerable groups including babies, small children and pregnant women would also receive treatment in the form of a cream applied to their skin.

The Solomon Islands scabies MDA program is supported by the World Scabies Program, and initiative of the Murdoch Children’s, thanks to a $10 million grant from the Macquarie Group’s 50th anniversary philanthropic commitment to addressing social needs. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also contributed some funds for training.