The Ministry of Health will conduct a medical survey later this month to test for schistosomiasis, in order to determine whether the disease has been eliminated in Saint Lucia.
Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms that causes illness in humans including fever, chills, muscle aches, enlargement of the liver and spleen, and anemia.
The medical survey will sample 2000 school-aged children between the ages of eight and 11. The survey will determine the level of prevalence, or the percentage of school aged children who may have bilharzia or schistosomiasis. Health officials predict that it will be a very low percentage.
“Right now we’re seeing very few cases of schistosomiasis, but in order to determine whether we have actually eliminated the disease we need to carry out a survey,” Dr Merlene Fredericks, Chief Medical Officer with the Ministry of Health, said. “We have been meeting with the schools and a sample of children was selected. We would have liked to involve the entire country and every child in every school, but because of limited resources we were not be able to involve everyone.”
Two thousand children out of a total of 9000, were selected to participate in the survey. The participants were selected by a random method that cannot be influenced by those working the survey.
“We’ve chosen to survey school aged children because that demographic will give us a much better sense of recent transmission rather than older persons,” said Nahum Jn. Baptiste National Epidemiologist in the Ministry of Health. “The disease is such that it can remain in persons for many years, and so even if we get a high prevalence of the disease among older people, it will not be able to tell us about recent transmission. Therefore, we are seeking the cooperation of the public—particularly parents—to allow their child to participate survey. This is a very important survey that will help us confirm that we no longer have schistosomiasis,” Mr. Jn. Baptiste said. “More importantly, it will help us find out whether there has been recent transmission so that we can identify the areas where there is transmission, and move quickly to eliminate it.”
The survey will be held during the week of April 24. The medical survey is being conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Transformation and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).