Saint Lucia readies for bilharzia survey
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
by GIS
The survey will draw from Saint Lucia’s past successes in reducing the prevalence of bilharzia.

A team of health officials met with the Ministry of Health on Monday, to discuss methods for the effective execution of a health survey that will determine the prevalence of bilharzia in Saint Lucia.

Bilharzia, also known as schistosomiasis, is a disease caused by parasitic worms that causes illness in humans.

PAHO Representative Maria Sanchez, said the survey will help draft global guidelines on how to combat transmission of the disease, especially due to Saint Lucia’s past success in reducing the prevalence of bilharzia.

“This disease occurs throughout the world and not only in Saint Lucia. In the Americas, in Africa and in Southeast Asia it is still very much prevalent. In the past, Saint Lucia was an example of what to do, and many guidelines on what to do were drafted on the results of what was done in Saint Lucia, so it’s the same thing we want to do now,” she said.

“Saint Lucia will be one of the very first countries—if not the first—to accomplish elimination of the transmission of the disease, and all the steps that have been followed, and all of the information we collect from the survey will be used to draft global guidelines to eliminate schistosomiasis around the world. So this is important not only for the people in Saint Lucia, but it will also have an impact due to what the World Health Organization (WHO) will do in many other countries across the globe.”

Chief Epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health, Nahum Jn. Baptiste, said the purpose of the survey is two-fold.

“First, the survey will give us a sense of whether we still have recent transmission, and second, it will point to the sources of infection in the country so that we can try to eliminate bilharzia from Saint Lucia entirely,” he said. “This is a very important survey for us, as bilharzia was a big problem many years ago, and we were quite successful in reducing its prevalence.”

Ms. Sanchez also encouraged parental consent, adding that the results will have far-reaching effects.

“We first want people to understand that schistosomiasis is not very prevalent in the island, and it is difficult sometimes for persons to collaborate with authorities when they don’t perceive that something is a problem,” she said. “But we want to show that the country and the island is free of the disease, so we need [parental] approval for children to participate, so we can prove that the island is free of the disease. It will also help us learn more about how we can progress towards [international] elimination with the example of Saint Lucia. So please, if your children have been selected for the survey we would very much appreciate if you could sign the consent forms.”

The survey involves collecting urine and small blood samples from selected participants for testing.

The team of health officials included representatives from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the University of Georgia, who will assess Saint Lucia’s preparedness for the survey. The team will also train persons in the testing of the samples.