Global epidemiology, ecology and control of soil-transmitted helminth infections.Adv Parasitol. 2006; 62:221-61.AP
Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections are among the most prevalent of chronic human infections worldwide. Based on the demonstrable impact on child development, there is a global commitment to finance and implement control strategies with a focus on school-based chemotherapy programmes. The major obstacle to the implementation of cost-effective control is the lack of accurate descriptions of the geographical distribution of infection. In recent years, considerable progress has been made in the use of geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) to better understand helminth ecology and epidemiology, and to develop low-cost ways to identify target populations for treatment. This review explores how this information has been used practically to guide large-scale control programmes. The use of satellite-derived environmental data has yielded new insights into the ecology of infection at a geographical scale that has proven impossible to address using more traditional approaches, and has in turn allowed spatial distributions of infection prevalence to be predicted robustly by statistical approaches. GIS/RS have increasingly been used in the context of large-scale helminth control programmes, including not only STH infections but also those focusing on schistosomiasis, filariasis and onchocerciasis. The experience indicates that GIS/RS provides a cost-effective approach to designing and monitoring programmes at realistic scales. Importantly, the use of this approach has begun to transition from being a specialist approach of international vertical programmes to becoming a routine tool in developing public sector control programmes. GIS/RS is used here to describe the global distribution of STH infections and to estimate the number of infections in school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa (89.9 million) and the annual cost of providing a single anthelmintic treatment using a school-based approach (US$5.0-7.6 million). These are the first estimates at a continental scale to explicitly include the fine spatial distribution of infection prevalence and population, and suggest that traditional methods have overestimated the situation. The results suggest that continent-wide control of parasites is, from a financial perspective, an attainable goal.