The WHO atlas for female-genital schistosomiasis: Co-design of a practicable diagnostic guide, digital support and training

PLOS Glob Public Health. 2024 Mar 18;4(3):e0002249. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0002249. eCollection 2024.


Up to 56 million young and adult women of African origin suffer from Female Genital Schistosomiasis (FGS). The transmission of schistosomiasis happens through contact with schistosomiasis infested fresh water in rivers and lakes. The transmission vector is the snail that releases immature worms capable of penetrating the human skin. The worm then matures and mates in the blood vessels and deposits its eggs in tissues, causing urogenital disease. There is currently no gold standard for FGS diagnosis. Reliable diagnostics are challenging due to the lack of appropriate instruments and clinical skills. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends "screen-and-treat" cervical cancer management, by means of visual inspection of characteristic lesions on the cervix and point-of-care treatment as per the findings. FGS may be mistaken for cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases. Misdiagnosis may lead to the wrong treatment, increased risk of exposure to other infectious diseases (human immunodeficiency virus and human papilloma virus), infertility and stigmatisation. The necessary clinical knowledge is only available to a few experts in the world. For an appropriate diagnosis, this knowledge needs to be transferred to health professionals who have minimal or non-existing laboratory support. Co-design workshops were held with stakeholders (WHO representative, national health authority, FGS experts and researchers, gynaecologists, nurses, medical doctors, public health experts, technical experts, and members of the public) to make prototypes for the WHO Pocket Atlas for FGS, a mobile diagnostic support tool and an e-learning tool for health professionals. The dissemination targeted health facilities, including remote areas across the 51 anglophone, francophone and lusophone African countries. Outcomes were endorsed by the WHO and comprise a practical diagnostic guide for FGS in low-resource environments.