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  1. Schistosomiasis is a debilitating parasitic disease of poverty that affects more than 200 million people worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and is clearly associated with the construction of dams and water resource management infrastructure in tropical and subtropical areas. Changes to hydrology and salinity linked to water infrastructure development may create conditions favorable to the aquatic vegetation that is suitable habitat for the intermediate snail hosts of schistosome parasites. With thousands of small and large water reservoirs, irrigation canals, and dams developed or under construction in Africa, it is crucial to accurately assess the spatial distribution of high-risk environments that are habitat for freshwater snail intermediate hosts of schistosomiasis in rapidly changing ecosystems. Yet, standard techniques for monitoring snails are labor-intensive, time-consuming, and provide information limited to the small areas that can be manually sampled. Consequently, in low-income countries where schistosomiasis control is most needed, there are formidable challenges to identifying potential transmission hotspots for targeted medical and environmental interventions. In this study, we developed a new framework to map the spatial distribution of suitable snail habitat across large spatial scales in the Senegal River Basin by integrating satellite data, high-definition, low-cost drone imagery, and an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered computermore »vision technique called semantic segmentation. A deep learning model (U-Net) was built to automatically analyze high-resolution satellite imagery to produce segmentation maps of aquatic vegetation, with a fast and robust generalized prediction that proved more accurate than a more commonly used random forest approach. Accurate and up-to-date knowledge of areas at highest risk for disease transmission can increase the effectiveness of control interventions by targeting habitat of disease-carrying snails. With the deployment of this new framework, local governments or health actors might better target environmental interventions to where and when they are most needed in an integrated effort to reach the goal of schistosomiasis elimination.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  2. In recent decades, computer vision has proven remarkably effective in addressing diverse issues in public health, from determining the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of diseases in humans to predicting infectious disease outbreaks. Here, we investigate whether convolutional neural networks (CNNs) can also demonstrate effectiveness in classifying the environmental stages of parasites of public health importance and their invertebrate hosts. We used schistosomiasis as a reference model. Schistosomiasis is a debilitating parasitic disease transmitted to humans via snail intermediate hosts. The parasite affects more than 200 million people in tropical and subtropical regions. We trained our CNN, a feed-forward neural network, on a limited dataset of 5,500 images of snails and 5,100 images of cercariae obtained from schistosomiasis transmission sites in the Senegal River Basin, a region in western Africa that is hyper-endemic for the disease. The image set included both images of two snail genera that are relevant to schistosomiasis transmission – that is, Bulinus spp. and Biomphalaria pfeifferi – as well as snail images that are non-component hosts for human schistosomiasis. Cercariae shed from Bi. pfeifferi and Bulinus spp. snails were classified into 11 categories, of which only two, S. haematobium and S. mansoni , are major etiological agentsmore »of human schistosomiasis. The algorithms, trained on 80% of the snail and parasite dataset, achieved 99% and 91% accuracy for snail and parasite classification, respectively, when used on the hold-out validation dataset – a performance comparable to that of experienced parasitologists. The promising results of this proof-of-concept study suggests that this CNN model, and potentially similar replicable models, have the potential to support the classification of snails and parasite of medical importance. In remote field settings where machine learning algorithms can be deployed on cost-effective and widely used mobile devices, such as smartphones, these models can be a valuable complement to laboratory identification by trained technicians. Future efforts must be dedicated to increasing dataset sizes for model training and validation, as well as testing these algorithms in diverse transmission settings and geographies.« less