Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is the second most common parasitic disease in the world after malaria.
An estimated 243 million people were treated for the disease in 2011 and it kills 200,000 people alone in Africa annually.
The disease is caused by a worm which lives in the guts of freshwater snails. The worm enters people through the skin, where it grows, breeds and lays eggs, triggering diarrhoea, stomach pain, anaemia and stunted growth in children.
By reintroducing once native prawns, which feed on the snails, researchers from a non-profit scheme Projet Crevette hope to cut transmission of the deadly disease in the Senegal River.
Young, growing prawns, which need calcium to build their shells, have the biggest appetite for calcium-rich aquatic snails and so are most sought after by the researchers.
Nicolas Jouanard from Projet Crevette hopes the initiative will spread: “Schisto is present all over tropical countries, especially in Africa where we encounter 90 percent of cases. The research we are doing here may be applied elsewhere in Africa.”
Amandeep Bhangu travels to Senegal to meet children affected by the disease and researchers trying to eliminate it.
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