Could Prawns Pack A Punch Against Senegal Parasitic Disease?

In Senegal, a parasitic disease known as schistosomiasis or bilharzia, affects the wellbeing of over two million people annually, with severe wellness symptoms such as weight loss, internal organ damage and, for 200,000 people every year, death. However, researchers believe that the key to eradicating this common and deadly parasitic disease may lie in prawn farming.


Schistosomiasis is spread to contaminated water and, according to researchers, by reintroducing prawns into the West African nation’s rivers; the snails that host the parasite that causes the disease will be eaten. Currently, there is a 60% prevalence rate of schistosomiasis in the water supply of villages such as Lampsar, about 20km (12 miles) from the city of Saint Louis.


Gadiaga Diop, who lives in this village, has been infected with the disease for two years. She describes, ‘It started with painful and bloody urination. A doctor gave me pills, but they had side effects, so I also vomited, and had diarrhoea. I was very tired, I lost weight, and I was afraid for my life.’ After malaria, schistosomiasis is the second most common parasitic disease in the world, and 90% of cases occur in Africa. It can lead to profuse bleeding in the digestive system, among other complications, which can cause death.


According to says Fatou Sarr Diouf, head of the regional health centre, the infection can be treated fairly effectively with a drug called praziquantel, and thanks to the latest government campaign to distribute the pill, bilharzia cases around Lampsar village have lowered from about 30 a month to less than 10, but there is nothing to prevent re-infection.


Gadiaga says ‘I feel better, but the disease won’t go away completely. I know it’s because I keep going back to the river, but there is no running water here and I have to go there at least twice a day, to wash the dishes, do my laundry, wash my children. I’m afraid every time I go in, but I have no choice.’


Therefore, a new non-profit scheme called Project Crevette (Prawn) has been created with the hope that by reintroducing prawns into the Senegal River, not only will the causes of the disease be wiped out, but the region will also benefit economically. So far, all the prawns have been were imported from Cameroon, but Project Crevette wants to breed the shellfish locally in the future and to involve local communities as much as possible.


Elizabeth Huttinger, who worked on public health development projects and went on to found Project Crevette, said that when scientist Armand Kuris, from the University of California, proved that prawns eat the mollusc hosts, and shared those findings with her, she ‘realised immediately that the idea of raising prawns and selling them through micro-commerce meant that the health effect could be sustainable’.

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