The Sunday News
Tendai Rupapa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
AFRICA continues to be plagued by bilharzia, among other neglected tropical diseases that affect the social and economic well-being of its citizenry.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), bilharzia affects 900 million people worldwide, but 90 percent of that burden is in Africa. Also known as schistosomiasis, bilharzia is an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms.
People are infected during routine agricultural, domestic, occupational and recreational activities, which expose them to infested water. Lack of hygiene, swimming or fishing in infested water puts people at risk of infection. Schistosomiasis control focuses on reducing transmission of the disease through periodic, large-scale population treatment using praziquantel (a prescription drug used as anti-worm medication).
However, a more comprehensive approach which involves providing potable water, adequate sanitation and snail control, can also reduce transmission. It is against this background that First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has extended an invitation to other African First Ladies for a two-day conference in Zimbabwe to find a lasting solution to the disease. The conference is among the recommendations presented and agreed on during a steering committee meeting of the Organisation of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD). Amai Mnangagwa is the Vice-President of OAFLAD.
Speaking after the steering committee meeting here on the sidelines of the ongoing African Union (AU) summit, Dr Bernard Madzima of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, who is also a member of the OAFLAD technical advisory team, said the envisaged conference is of paramount importance to Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.
The 2020 theme for OAFLAD is “Gender Equality and Women Empowerment: A Pathway to the Africa We Want.”
Said Dr Madzima: “Our First Lady, Amai Mnangagwa, has invited other First Ladies from the African Union to come to Zimbabwe for a two-day conference in May. Issues of neglected tropical diseases, with a special focus on schistosomiasis, commonly known as bilharzia, will be discussed there.”
He said the conference is slated for Victoria Falls.
“The WHO (World Health Organisation) statistics say almost every person who lives in the rural areas in Africa is at risk of getting bilharzia. So that is the magnitude of the problem. Also, it affects the mental health of children,” said Dr Madzima.
Bilharzia, he said, affects children’s capacity to perform well in school. The invitation extended to African First Ladies by Amai Mnangagwa is in recognition of their key role in all social and health programmes.
“So not only has she been looking at HIV and issues of nutrition, but she is now coming with a perspective of looking at how bilharzia can be combated so that it also improves health outcomes of Zimbabweans and Africans in general. This is the basis of the conference where First Ladies will be used to mobilise resources. They will also be used to improve awareness and advocacy issues in their respective countries. The First Lady has also partnered with organisations like WHO, a Japanese organisation called Global Health Innovative Trust and Merk Foundation,” said Dr Madzima.
Amai Mnangagwa has initiated a number of health programmes for the benefit of children, men and women. She also plays a leading role in cancer screening and treatment through her Angel of Hope Foundation.