Biological Sciences

Film launched on bilharzia, WASH and the impact on women and children

The new film, produced in collaboration between Professor Francisca Mutapi and Professor Agnieszka Piotrowska, acts as both an awareness-raising and advocacy tool, amplifying the stories of people affected and calling for tailored interventions.

5 year old showing advanced liver and spleen damage from bilharzia
5 year old showing advanced liver and spleen damage from bilharzia

Bilharzia (also known as schistosomiasis or snail fever) affects people in 51 endemic countries across Asia, Africa and parts of South America.

Bilharzia is an illness that develops when people come into contact with water contaminated by certain snails that carry disease-causing parasites. These parasites can penetrate through a person’s skin and move through the body.

Infection primarily affects the urinary or intestinal system, causing chronic ill health and, in some cases, death.

Disease Impacts

Poor hygiene and water-based activities (such as swimming and fishing) make school-age children the most vulnerable, with infection responsible for malnutrition, absenteeism and impaired intellectual development.

In women, bilharzia can lead lead to female genital schistosomiasis (FGS) which can cause complications in pregnancy and triple the risk of contracting HIV.

Children suffering from persistent and severe bilharzia infections are also likely to have chronic and irreversible diseases later in life, such as scarring (fibrosis) of the liver, bladder cancer or kidney failure.

To coincide with Day of the African Child a powerful new film was launched that looks at how children across Africa, as well as on women, are affected by bilharzia and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).


The work on Wash began some 18 months ago when I was the Head of the School for Film, Media and the Performing Arts at the University for the Creative Arts, UK. It went on for a long time, involving a whole team of creative practitioners and my long time collaborators, in particular the Director of Photography, the acclaimed Zimbabwean filmmaker Joe Njagu, the editor Anna Dobrowodzka and a number of animators in particular linked to Studio Mitkus in Lithuania as well as many other people.  It is a real team effort. We are all very proud of the film.

Professor Agnieszka PiotrowskaProfessor of Film at the University of Gdanskh


In the film, produced in collaboration between Professor Agnieszka Piotrowska and Professor Francisca Mutapi and funded in part by the Strategic England 21, reveals:

  • how bilharzia impacts the whole community
  • how solutions previously thought to address access to water, sanitation, and hygiene failed to meet the challenge
  • how community engagement is vital in providing solutions that will allow us to end NTDs

The film acts as both an awareness-raising and advocacy tool, which amplifies the stories of people affected and calls for tailored interventions.


What I have learned in twenty years of this research is that it is almost impossible to put interventions into a community without engaging with that community. You need to go in and ask them - what do you see as the problem and what do you think is the solution?

Professor Francisca MutapiProfessor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, Deputy Director of the NIHR Global Health Research Unit TIBA (Tackling Infections to Benefit Africa) and co-Director of the Global Health Academy at the University of Edinburgh


To celebrate the launch of the film, Professor Mutapi held two showings of the film. One in rural Zimbabwe amongst children of school age. The second with university students in Edinburgh.

These showings were sponsored by TIBA, which is an Africa-led, wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary research programme that explores and draws lessons from the ways that different African health systems tackle infectious diseases. 

Kigali Summit

The launch of this film came the week before the Kigali Summit on Malaria and NTDs, which was held on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on June 23rd 2022.

The Summit is a historic opportunity to show the world how malaria and NTD programmes “unlock the potential” of countries to build a safer world for everyone everywhere.

Investments are critical for building resilient health systems, improving pandemic preparedness and prevention, and supporting healthier populations. 


Watch the film