Thursday, May 19, 2011

Attempting to wipe out guinea worm

The World Health Assembly is meeting this week in Geneva. The assembly is the decision making body of the World Health Organization. This year, the assembly is discussing how to eliminate guinea worm and cholera. It may be very soon that the WHO can stop talking about the guinea worm. It can be done if water supply is improved for the four countries that still have the disease.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Isolda Agazzi interviews a coordinator in Ghana's efforts to ending the disease.

"In 1989, when we started our programme, 180,000 people were affected by guinea worm," Dr. Andrew Seidu Korkor, national coordinator for guinea worm at the Ghana Health Service, told IPS in a phone interview. "In 2010 we had only eight cases and today there are none. But it takes three years to get the certification that the disease is not endemic in your country any more."

The guinea worm causes Dracunculiasis, a waterborne parasitic disease that exists in only four countries – Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia and Sudan. It lives in stagnant water. When people drink contaminated water, the parasite grows up to three feet and lives just below the skin, often crippling its human host.

There are no medicines to treat the disease or vaccines to prevent it. The only cure is to slowly, painfully extract it over days. While the disease is not lethal, its disabling effect prevents those affected from working or attending school, putting already vulnerable individuals and communities at further risk of chronic poverty.

"If potable water was provided, then guinea worm could be definitely eradicated," Seidu Korkor continued. "But you cannot get 100 percent water supply immediately, because it is expensive and it takes time. Therefore, we also educate people on prevention measures, we look for cases and treat them, we use filters to improve the water supply and apply chemicals to kill the intermediate host."

If completely eradicated, guinea worm would become the second disease wiped out by humankind - the first since smallpox was eradicated in the 1970s.

No comments: