The sexual and reproductive health issue you’ve probably never heard of…

Below are extracts from a news item on the news website openDemocracy. The full text is available here:

‘Why is one of the most common gynaecological conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, schistosomiasis, misunderstood, under-researched and under-reported?

‘Throughout Africa approximately 200-220 million people are living with schistosomiasis – also known as bilharzia – and 600 million people are at risk of being infected. Schistosomiasis is a waterborne disease, caused by worms that use aquatic snails as their intermediate hosts, and is particularly common in communities living near freshwater lakes, ponds and streams. Owing to the close association with water for washing, bathing and drinking, infection can be a daily occurrence but it can also occur in seasonal drier environments where people are made more vulnerable through necessary and life giving interactions with infested water.

‘Urogenital schistosomiasis – also referred to as female or male genital schistosomiasis (FGS and MGS) –  is common, and even universal in some communities. It is thought that between about 100 and 120 million people are suffering from FGS and MGS which is causing damage to their urinary and reproductive systems. Adolescent girls and women with FGS can experience bleeding and stigmatising discharge from the vagina, genital lesions, nodules in the vulva as well as general discomfort and pain during sex. The damage that FGS causes also include sub-fertility, miscarriage and can effect vulnerability to HIV and the Human Papilloma virus.’

‘… unfortunately it is misunderstood, under-researched and under-reported to the extent that we have little concrete information on prevalence in different countries, inadequate diagnostic systems, and little guidance on how to prevent, manage and treat it…

‘FGS is potentially a sensitive, private, and possibly stigmatising condition and messaging needs to be geared to the realities of women’s gendered experiences. This requires in-depth research to explore the context and community discourse surrounding FGS symptoms and the development of appropriate referral and treatment strategies that are accessible to all women and girls regardless of where they live or how much money or resources they can access. In so doing, strengthening the surveillance and tailored interventions of reproductive health services is something we should all welcome…’

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