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Citizens can help to map putative transmission sites for snail-borne diseases


Introduction: Schistosomiasis and fasciolosis are snail-borne diseases of great medical and veterinary health importance. The World Health Organization recommends complementing drug treatment with snail control and community involvement for disease elimination, but there is a general lack of snail experts and hence snail distribution data. Therefore, we adopted a citizen science approach and involved citizens in the monitoring of medically and veterinary important snail taxa.

Materials and methods: Snail data was collected weekly by 25 trained citizen scientists (CSs) at 76 sites around southern Lake Albert (Uganda) for 20 months. At each site, snails were searched for 30 minutes, sorted, target snail hosts identified to genus level, counted and data submitted through a smartphone application. The quality of this data was assessed by comparing it to monthly data collected by an ‘expert’ malacologist using the same sampling protocol. Generalised binomial logistic and linear mixed-effects models were used to analyse the variables for agreement between the CSs and expert.

Findings: The binary agreement in presence/absence of Biomphalaria, Bulinus and Radix snails reported by the expert and CSs ranged between 70% and 86% (900 reports) with an average of 17% false negatives (sites wrongly defined as snail-free). The agreement for Biomphalaria and Radix increased with snail abundance, and false negatives decreased when the number of snails collected by citizens was aggregated per month. Site type significantly predicted binary agreement, which was lowest at lake sites (55%) and highest at spring sites (99%) with variations across genera. Similar temporal trends in snail abundance were recorded despite the expert reporting higher abundance. However, the relative abundance was consistent across site types. The match between the sites with highest Biomphalaria spp. abundance identified by CSs and expert was consistently high (~84.1%) and increased over time.

Conclusions and recommendations: Our results demonstrate the potential of citizen science to map putative schistosomiasis transmission sites. We therefore argue that this inclusive, powerful and cost-effective approach can be more sustainable than top-down monitoring and intervention campaigns.

More information

Journal Article
Tumusiime J
Valderrama Bhraunxs N
Kagoro-Rugunda G
Namirembe D
Albrecht C
Twongyirwe R
Tolo CU
Jacobs L
Huyse T
Werneck GL