Imperial College London

Imperial group reaches milestone in tropical disease campaign


children getting medicines

A charitable organisation based at Imperial has given out its 100 millionth treatment for a debilitating tropical disease.

The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) was established in 2002 to bring treatments for schistosomiasis to the poorest populations in Africa. Also known as bilharzia or snail fever, schistosomiasis is caused by a parasitic worm that lives and breeds in the blood vessels of humans. The female worm lays eggs throughout her life, which is normally three to five years.

The worms cause malnutrition and anaemia, but the eggs lead to blood in the urine and stool, plus serious longer-term consequences to the bladder wall and the liver. Praziquantel, a medicine taken as a tablet, kills adult worms in the body.

Over the last 11 years, SCI has assisted ministries of health and education in 16 countries to map the distribution of the disease and offer treatments to people infected, especially school-aged children.

The coverage has been wide, reaching East Africa (Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Zambia), Central Africa (Burundi and Rwanda) and West Africa (Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, and Niger). Outside of Africa, SCI has assisted a World Bank funded project in Yemen.

We hope to be able to eliminate schistosomiasis in at least some countries by 2020.

– Professor Alan Fenwick

Director, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

This month, the total number of treatments they have delivered has passed 100 million.

SCI has received generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, DFID, Geneva Global, the END Fund and from the British and American public. In 2011, SCI was rated by the non-profit organisation GiveWell as one of the top two charities worldwide for achieving impact.

Currently SCI is assisting the World Health Organisation to distribute praziquantel donated by Merck KGaA. The pharmaceutical company has agreed to increase its annual donation over the next few years to 250 million tablets – enough to treat 100 million children every year from 2016.

SCI’s Director, Professor Alan Fenwick, said: “I’m thrilled that we’ve reached this milestone and so proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but there are still too many children who are affected by diseases that can easily be treated. With the help of our generous supporters, we hope to be able to eliminate schistosomiasis in at least some countries by 2020.” 


Sam Wong

Sam Wong
School of Professional Development

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