Disease, Food, Energy, and Water Solutions (DFEWS) Defusing Schistosomiasis and Reducing Global Resource Shortages

Each year, schistosomiasis kills more than 200,000 people, infects 200,000,000, and threatens the lives of 700,000,000 in developing countries around the world.

Carried by snails that feed on aquatic plants, this fatal yet preventable disease runs rampant in villages for which local lakes and rivers are crucial to all elements of life, and mass drug administration has proven to be an ineffective and impractical way to stop its progress.

These same villages also suffer from dire shortages of food, energy, and water.

Developed by Dr. Jason Rohr at the University of Notre Dame, the DFEWS initiative tackles these challenges simultaneously with a novel solution that the communities themselves are empowered to sustain.

Named by the MacArthur Foundation as a Top 100 proposal in the 2020 100&Change competition, in recognition of its potential to make real, measurable progress on a critical global issue, DFEWS utilizes a whole-ecosystem approach to maximize impact and make the affected communities the agents of ongoing change.

DFEWS deploys a chain of interventions that begins at water’s edge:

A. Remove Aquatic Vegetation

In areas identified as high-vegetation zones via satellite imagery mapping, community members are trained to remove vegetation from their local waterways quarterly, both increasing their water access and reducing the risk of schistosomiasis by eliminating the infected snailshabitat.

The community takes ownership of this process after the training period, and remote sensing technology is currently being evaluated as a potential means of alerting them when vegetation regrowth reaches a critical level.

B. Convert Vegetation to Compost or Livestock Feed

The community members then transform the plants they collect into either soil-enriching compost or livestock feed, supporting the villages food production needs.

Initial research strongly supports that the effort needed to remove and compost the vegetation is more than matched by increased crop yield. Results of a similar analysis of the vegetations use as livestock feed are forthcoming.

C. Turn Vegetation into Fuel

The plants are also used to power biodigesters that produce gas for cooking and lighting.

A cost-effectiveness trial of this process is the next step in program evaluation.

In offering communities immediate, tangible benefits, DFEWS addresses their short-term needs while incentivizing their long-term commitment to the process, which is crucial to keeping schistosomiasis at bay.

DFEWS pilot trials in Senegal have shown success, with initial results indicating:

● a 103-fold reduction in snail populations

● a decrease in schistosomiasis reinfection rates among children, and

● an increase in crop production among villages receiving the intervention.

The team is ready to refine the process and expand to additional high-risk areas in Senegal and beyond.

Goal 1: Implement and Scale DFEWS Locally


  • Conduct further research, evaluation, and economic analyses of intervention impacts.
  • Map areas in West and East Africa at high-risk of schistosomiasis.
  • Formalize training materials and training program with Senegalese partners.

Funding Need:

$1 million

Goal 2: Scale DFEWS Regionally


  • Assess local stakeholder success in sustaining the interventions over time, with and without incentive programs.
  • Hone and apply remote sensing technology that will inform communities of need for vegetation removal.
  • Expand training program within a broader region of Senegal.

Funding Need:

$5 million

Goal 3: Scale DFEWS throughout Senegal


  • Engage independent third party for intervention monitoring, evaluation, and learning.
  • Disseminate training program in all at-risk regions of Senegal.
  • Develop plans for replication across Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.

Funding Need:

$10 million

Vision for Future Impact

By 2025, DFEWS will be adopted widely in West Africa, with developing inroads across East Africa.

All communities receiving the intervention will see a reduction in cases of schistosomiasis by at least 25%, an increase in open water by at least 75%, and an increase food and energy production by at least 25%.

Over time, DFEWS promises to dramatically increase the quality of life not only for those currently facing the threats of schistosomiasis and food, energy, and water shortages, but for future generations as well, who will inherit the tools and knowledge to sustain the fight.

For more information, contact:

Jason Rohr, Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences: jrohr@nd.edu

Michelle Joyce, Senior Director of Foundation Relations: mjoyce@nd.edu