River of Hope

Can prawns stop a massive outbreak of the killer schistosomiasis (bilharzia) parasite in Senegal?

Last updated: 12 May 2014 09:40
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A deadly and pervasive disease affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide and the Senegal basin is the site of the biggest outbreak that the world has ever seen.

Schistosomiasis, also known as  snail fever or bilharzia ,  is a water-borne parasite that once inside the body stunts physical and intellectual growth, particularly in children. 

Alassane Ndiaye, a Lifelines' "Health Hero", is a man on a mission. His motorbike takes him around villages in the Senegal basin where he works tirelessly in the battle against schistosomiasis in the community and surrounding waters.

I’ve seen under a microscope what the disease does. Whoever knows about it must inform people about its dangers. Whenever I am given pills for the people, I’ll stay up all night. I will not go to bed until I have treated them all.

Health Hero Alassane Ndiaye

The outbreak started 30 years ago when a dam was built across the Senegal River at the point where it drains into the sea. Up to 90 percent of the population in the river basin was infected and no one understood why -- until a development specialist linked the explosion of schistosomiasis to the extinction of river prawns in the river system caused by the dam.

River prawns prey on the snails that carry the schistosomiasis parasite. Without prawns, the snail population increased, and so did the risk of schisto infection for everyone who entered the river.

Now Alassane works with project leader Elizabeth Huttinger on a novel experiment to reintroduce prawns into the river system and interrupt the cycle of the "schisto" disease that leads to poverty.

Will this unique and innovative solution be enough to free these communities from the burden of schistosomiasis?

Lifelines: The Quest for Global  Health profiles the extraordinary work of global health workers in their quest to rid the world of the deadly, neglected diseases and conditions that keep millions of people in poverty.

Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health   can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1200; Wednesday 0100


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About LifeLines
Lifelines: The Quest For Global Health
is Al Jazeera's new cross-platform project profiling the extraordinary work of global health workers as they tackle eight deadly diseases and conditions that afflict vulnerable communities across the globe. These good news stories stretch from the Philippines to Pakistan, Uganda to South Sudan, India to Senegal, featuring the people who are working to prevent, control or eradicate malaria, rabies, polio, leprosy, schistosomiasis, Guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma and maternal and neonatal mortality. Online, on screen and on the ground in affected communities, we will share their uplifting stories in Lifelines: The Quest For Global Health.
Sign up for regular updates about the people and their work around the world to tackle these diseases and conditions.
Lifelines will focus month by month on each condition here on our website and in 2014 will premiere an eight-part
documentary series on Al Jazeera English.