Merck has announced a plan to host its first Bilharzia Storytelling Lab in Kenya. The lab is a three-day workshop bringing together 30 Kenyan community leaders and storytellers. The participants will be working on the task to develop new innovative ways of storytelling to empower and inform risk groups on prevention and or treatment of bilharzia.

More than 240 million people worldwide require treatment for the Neglected Tropical Disease (NTDs) bilharzia (also known as schistosomiasis or snail fever). It is estimated that 200,000 people die from the consequences of their long-term infections each year.

“Bilharzia remains a serious health issue in our country. To tackle this disease, it is necessary to treat the population on a regular basis. Empowering affected communities by providing information on bilharzia and NTDs is another crucial step in reaching elimination under our “Breaking Transmission Strategy”, said Dr. Sultani Matendechero, Head, Division of Vector Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases at Ministry of Health Kenya.

Since 2007, Merck’s praziquantel donations have enabled the treatment of 520 million school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya. Merck’s integrated approach combines provision of treatment, research and development, as well as WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and health education initiatives.

The lab builds on the human-centered design thinking approach, developed by Dalberg, a mission-driven communications and experience consultancy, which seeks to empower and mobilize people to solve global development challenges by collective, sustained action.

“We are very excited to start our Storytelling Lab in Kenya and gather leading storytellers and community leaders to collaborate on solutions that will bring down the number of people affected by bilharzia. The Storytelling Lab is the next important step in upscaling our activities in the prevention of infection with bilharzia through health education,” saID Johannes Waltz, Head of the Merck Schistosomiasis Elimination Program and Director of Strategy and Finance at the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA).

Six teams, consisting of 30 Kenyan community leaders and storytellers are working on the challenge to develop innovative tools to raise awareness on bilharzia among risk groups. The three main risk groups as defined by WHO are domestic workers, particularly women doing household work in infested waters, agricultural workers and school-aged children.

The Storytelling Lab concludes on the second World NTD Day, January 30th, 2021, marked all over the world. The World NTD Day is supported by over 230 international partners including Merck to put the spot on NTDs, raising awareness and calling for action to tackle NTDs.

Merck has confirmed that it intends to apply the concept of the Bilharzia Storytelling Lab in other endemic countries in the future.