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World Scabies Program

Research project

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute awarded $10M to lead a global program to wipe out the scabies parasite.

What is scabies?

Scabies is a skin disease caused by a tiny mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that burrows under the skin and lays its eggs, resulting in traumatic itching – an irritation so severe people cannot sleep and may scratch themselves until they bleed.

What happens to people with scabies?

Constant scratching caused by the mites opens up the skin, leading to bacterial skin infections and that in severe cases blood poisoning, kidney failure and heart disease.

Who does it effect?

Globally, there are an estimated 455 million cases of scabies every year, and around million people are affected at any time. Mites thrive in hot, crowded conditions – schools, villages, refugee camps and prisons – and can be widespread in some low-income communities, including in remote communities in northern Australia, and parts of the South Pacific. Infection rate is especially high among children and the elderly in resource-poor communities. Scabies are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact with another infected person.

How is scabies treated?

Standard treatment for scabies is application of a topical cream. However, routine application is often low and reinfestation from family members common, meaning that treatment is frequently ineffective.

What are MCRI doing to eliminate scabies?

Researchers at MCRI have shown in multiple countries that the oral medication (Ivermectin), given to whole communities, can reduce the prevalence of the disease by 90 per cent after just one round of treatment, effectively eliminating the disease. Ivermectin has been shown to be safe and can be feasibly delivered by community health care workers. Right now in Fiji, MCRI, the Kirby Institute and the Fiji Ministry of Health are working to treat 140,000 people for scabies.


MCRI and its partners have been awarded AU$10 million to lead a global program to wipe out scabies. The funding come from the Macquarie Group’s 50th anniversary philanthropic commitment to address social need.


MCRI has the necessary technical expertise, international leadership, and partnerships to make this bold vision a reality. MCRI are recognised as the peak international academic group in the field of scabies; chair the International Alliance for the Control of Scabies; and have established relationships with key partners including the World Health Organization Department for Neglected Tropical Disease and the Western Pacific Regional Office of the WHO.

What will funding be used for?

Funds will enable MCRI and its partners to set up the World Scabies Program, working closely with international researchers, health ministries and the World Health Organization.

For the World Scabies Program MCRI and partners will begin work to:

  • Map the global populations affected by scabies
  • Establish affordable and reliable access to effective treatments
  • Scale-up mass drug administration strategies in highly-affected countries including entire populations
    of Fiji and the Solomon Islands
  • Support affected communities and health workers to introduce elimination programs.

The vision of the World Scabies Program is to equip low and middle income countries around the world with the tools and the resources to detect, monitor and eliminate scabies in affected communities.

Further information: