Sun, Sea and Snails

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Briton, St Lucia

Briton, St Lucia. credit: brittrobinsonphotography

The island of St. Lucia: palm-fringed beaches bathed in glorious Caribbean sun and rugged volcanic mountains separated by valleys of lush, tropical vegetation – the perfect destination for that special romantic get-away, perhaps?  In the 1960s, however, a group of scientists looked at the natural beauty of St. Lucia through less than romantic eyes. They were seeking a site for research into schistosomiasis, a chronic disease caused by parasitic worms. St Lucia, with ecologically isolated valleys each having a high prevalence of  Schistosoma mansoni,  was seen as a good location for the comparative study of different control methods. The St. Lucia Schistosomiasis Control Project was set up in 1965 as a joint venture between the St. Lucia government and the Rockefeller Foundation. It was hoped that the lessons learned in the natural laboratory provided by the St. Lucian landscape would be applicable to larger and more complex control programmes elsewhere.

Robert Sturrock was appointed Principal Biologist to the Project in 1966 and was based on the island until 1973. He undertook detailed studies of the field population behaviour of the parasite host snails and designed, implemented and evaluated an experimental control programme based on molluscicides.  The records that he kept during his time on the island are now catalogued and available for research in the Wellcome Library (Ref. WTI/RFS). They include field study notes, observations, data analyses and documents relating to the planning and operation of the control programmes, such as work schedules and lists of equipment and supplies. Together they provide important primary source material for our understanding of the development of schistosomiasis control techniques during the second half of the twentieth century.

Meanwhile, prospective honeymooners may be reassured to know that,  although it remains one of the seven most prevalent Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) worldwide, the risk of being infected with schistosomiasis in St Lucia is now considered to be low.

Author: Jenny Haynes, Archives and Manuscripts Manager at the Wellcome Library

Lalita Kaplish

Lalita Kaplish is Web Editor at the Wellcome Library. You can also find her on LinkedIn and Twitter @LalitaKaplish.

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