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Disease Ecology and Health

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The Upstream Alliance 

Upstream Alliance

The Upstream Alliance is a partnership among scientists and citizens on four continents, working together to reduce schistosomiasis, a Neglected Tropical Disease and a disease of poverty. At The Upstream Alliance, we are creating solutions to naturally reduce schistosomiasis, while helping to fight hunger and alleviate poverty. Together, our partners are restoring prawns to their native waterways and developing a new sustainable prawn-farming enterprise for the health and well being of the local communities. Water projects like dams and irrigation schemes support agricultural expansion to feed the growing human population, now topping 7 billion worldwide. But these water projects come with costs in the form of degradation of ecosystems and in some cases, of human health. In West Africa, the Diama Dam, built on the Senegal River in the 1980’s, was followed by a massive outbreak of schistosomiasis, a waterborne parasitic disease that causes debilitating symptoms in humans. The dam blocked the migration of freshwater prawns, predators of the snails that carry the parasite. Without prawns, the snail populations exploded, and so did the disease. The changing distribution of fresh water and the loss of prawns upstream due to dam building has caused a rising burden of schistosomiasis in the developing world. Prawns are voracious predators of the snails that carry the schistosome parasite. So, more prawns equal fewer snails and less risk of parasites in the water. And that translates to healthier children and communities. Our disease control approach is to restore natural snail predators (prawns) within the aquatic ecosystems where schistosomiasis has emerged, especially in managed ecosystems like irrigation schemes throughout the developing world where some of the highest parasite transmission sites exist today.

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The Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment


The Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment works with experts in public health, ecology, engineering, computer science, medicine and the social sciences to find sustainable environmental interventions for a range of diseases. 

It expands on an initial keystone project called the Upstream Alliance, a multi-institution initiative seeking environmental interventions to curb the spread of schistosomiasis, a waterborne parasitic disease affecting about 250 million people.  This project is featured in a new video by California Academy of Sciences, where the team’s reintroduction of native prawns at river access points at field sites in Senegal led to fewer disease-carrying snails and reduced transmission of schistosome parasites to people.  

The Program for Disease Ecology, Health and the Environment is a joint initiative with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Its mission: To discover ecological solutions to humanity’s health challenges and to develop the next generation of planetary health innovators.