Ethiopia and Ghana on the verge of Guinea worm eradication

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Still present in 6 African countries, dracunculiasis or Guinea worm disease could soon be eradicated. According to the WHO, Ethiopia, Ghana and Mali are on the point of winning the battle against the disease. Niger, Nigeria and Sudan are also making good progress.

Guinea worm is a parasitic worm and a disease which is transmitted through contact with contaminated water. In its larval state, this parasite takes up residence inside tiny water fleas called cyclops. People become infected by drinking this water without filtering it.

Ingested worms gradually grow inside the body until they measures as long as one metre long and two millimeters in diameter. From there, a worm moves from tissue to tissue causing intense pain.

According to Dr. Emmanuel Baya, from the UNICEF “Guinea worm disease affects productive people. It’s very painful and people can’t work. Then it becomes an economic hazard”. “Children just become bedridden. If the rest of the family has the disease, there is no one to care for them. So it affects the whole productive capacity of the community.”

A report on the “Impact of Guinea Worm Disease on Children in Nigeria,” released in 1986, revealed that “Guinea worm-infected pupils missed up to 25% of school year days compared to a non-guinea worm-infected absence of 2.5%. At the height of guinea worm season in the study area, guinea worm-related absences contributed virtually all of the absenteeism recorded in the school…”

In 9 out of 10 cases the worm exits the body via the foot, causing a fierce burning sensation and ulceration. At this stage only plunging the foot in water seems to offer any relief. But at the same time, this cool water causes female worms to contract, leading to the expulsion of thousands of embryos which are then ingested by the water fleas. And the cycle of disease begins once again.

But in Ghana, Ethiopia and elsewhere, it is now possible to prevent transmission by filtering drinking water from ponds and pools, and by ensuring that people with wounds do not enter water reservoirs.

At the same time, major work has also been carried out to repair faulty water pumps because the fact is that it is when water supplies break down that people turn to dangerous sources, the WHO points out.

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