Time to bring female genital schistosomiasis out of neglect
Female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) is a chronic gynaecological disease affecting girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), caused by the parasite Schistosoma (S.) haematobium. FGS is associated with sexual dysfunction, reproductive tract morbidity and increased prevalence of HIV and cervical precancer lesions.
Source of data
Key peer-reviewed published literature.
Areas of agreement
FGS screening and diagnosis require costly equipment and specialized training, seldom available in resource-limited settings. FGS surveillance is not included in wider schistosomiasis control strategies. The interplay of FGS with other SRH infections is not fully understood. Integration of FGS within sexual and reproductive health (SRH) control programmes needs to be explored.
Areas of controversy
There are no standardized methods for individual or population-based FGS screening and diagnosis, hindering accurate disease burden estimates and targeted resource allocation. Treatment recommendations rely on public health guidelines, without rigorous clinical evidence on efficacy.
Integrating FGS screening with SRH programmes offers an opportunity to reach at-risk women with limited access to healthcare services. Home-based self-sampling coupled with handheld colposcopes operated by primary healthcare workers show promise for FGS diagnosis and surveillance at scale.
Areas timely for developing research
There is growing interest in decentralizing strategies for FGS screening and diagnosis. The accurate predictions on the ‘cost-effectiveness’ of these approaches will determine their affordability and feasibility within the overburdened health systems in SSA. Clinical trials are needed to optimize FGS treatment. Longitudinal studies can expand on the epidemiological knowledge on co-morbidities and integration within other SRH interventions.