Ecologists discover that reintroducing African River Prawns to waterways can heal parasitic disease
20 million people worldwide are infected with a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis.
90% of these cases are in sub-Saharan Africa in villages that have lived without an effective cure for generations. People have knowingly existed in tandem with the parasite, dealing with the effects of the disease which include inflammation, cognitive impairments, diarrhea, blood in urine, and bladder cancer. The parasite is at this point is a terrifying, necessary evil.
Why? Because the disease comes from the water – the center of life where people bathe, clean laundry, harvest grasses for their house roofs, and drink when wells are used up.
The disease (which is so common it’s been nicknamed schisto) all began when the Diama Dam was built in Senegal in 1986. This resulted in blocking the migration of a crustacean known as the African river prawn – which is one of the main predators of the snails that schisto’s parasitic hosts start their life cycle within. And when a parasite enters a snail, it helps 100,000 exit to go find human hosts.
Dam goes up, prawns stop migrating, the snail population increases, and 200 million people are infected. It is the classic story of a construction built in the name of progress and financial gain most affecting poor populations whose livelihoods are intimately tied to the environment.
Fortunately, after nearly 30 years, ecologists from Stanford and UC Santa Barbara have collaborated and come up with a solution – just add prawns.