- Escalated efforts against Guinea worm disease in Togo, Mali and Ghana have been announced. The prevalence of the parasite has already been decreased by 99 percent, but pockets of the disease still exist in these West African countries.
Several institutions now aim at eliminating the last one percent of Guinea worm disease remaining in the world. In a bid to call international attention to this fight, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook and former US President Jimmy Carter will travel on behalf of The Carter Centre to West Africa 2-6 February.
Mr Carter, who travels together with his wife, Rosalynn, is to visit Togo and Mali and will join with Mr Lee and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam in Ghana. The Carter Centre, UNICEF, and WHO are lead partners in a worldwide coalition against the Guinea worm.
Ghanaian Minister of Health, Kweku Afriyie, will host and guide the visiting delegations during a tour of villages with Guinea worm disease.
Guinea worm disease is expected to be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated, and the first disease to be eradicated without vaccines or medications.
It is contracted when people consume stagnant water, contaminated with microscopic water fleas carrying infective larvae. Inside a human's abdomen, the larvae mature and grow, some as long as one meter. After a year, the worm slowly emerges through a painful blister in the skin, usually on the lower limbs.
- Guinea worm disease is unfamiliar, even unimaginable to most people in the developed world, noted ex-President Carter when announcing his tour. "The pain and suffering it causes its victims are tragic, yet they are preventable. Relieving the suffering caused by Guinea worm is as easy as educating people about the disease and providing them with simple solutions to make their drinking water safe."
In Lomé, Mr Carter is to meet with the Togolese Minister of Health on 3 February to discuss further action against the disease. Together, they are to inform the population through the local press. In Bamako, Mr Carter will meet the Malian Minister of Health.
After Mr Carter's visit to Togo and Mali, the entire delegation will visit Tamale in Ghana's Northern Region to talk with villagers and community leaders combating the disease in the most highly endemic area remaining in West Africa.
With 13 of the original 20 endemic countries now free or nearly free of Guinea worm, the disease remains only in West Africa and Sudan. Ghana is the most endemic Guinea worm country in West Africa, second in the world only to Sudan, which has nearly 70 percent of remaining cases.
Ghana accounts for about 25 percent of approximately 35,000 reported cases in 2003. Only in 1986, there were reported 3.5 million incidences of the disease. "The end is in sight. Working together, we can stop Guinea worm now," commented Mr Carter.
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