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14.09.2005 Health

Guinea worm continues to wreck havoc in rural Ghana

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A GNA Feature by Mrs Esther Amofa (AIJC Intern)

Accra, Sept. 14, GNA - "Having 45 guinea worms all over my body is not an easy thing," said Mr Kofi Tindani, a 35-year-old man at Dashei, a farming community in the Northern Region.

"It has rendered me helpless and I have to be helped to even visit gents or take my bath," said Mr Tindani, who could be seen limping. And he says it is a nasty experience. He is the breadwinner of the house and to go through this ordeal, one can imagine the severe impact it will have on his family.

"I have had sleepless nights for the past four weeks and it got to a time that I thought I was going to die", he said with tears running down his cheeks.

And Mr Tindani is not alone in this predicament. Thousands of people are living with the disease and the rate of infection is hardly showing any significant reduction.

Narrating how he had all these worms, Mr Tindani said he is a native of Atebubu in the Brong Ahafo Region but migrated to Dashei to farm. At Dashei, the only water source is a dam, which they shared with the cattle and other livestock in the village.

He said he realised that his left foot was swollen and within a few days he had some swellings all over him including my private parts. Had he known that they were guinea worms he would have sought medical attention.

"We were drinking the water without boiling or filtering it with filters because our belief was that our great grand parents drank from the same dam and wells but lived longer without these diseases.

"To be sincere with you, we concluded that this was a spiritual sickness that had nothing to do with the hospital. This is because I picked a quarrel with a relative over my late father's property so I assumed that it was him, who had cursed me with this disease." These are some of the cultural and religious barriers that the authorities face in the fight against the disease.

Mr Tindani only got to know that he was infected with guinea worm when some volunteers, who heard about his plight, visited and assisted him.

Tindani has now had all the worms expelled from his body by the volunteers and he is now waiting for his wounds to heal so that he could go back to farm to feed his family.

"I now insist that my wife and children and even neighbours should boil and filter their water before using it."

The case of Tindani is nothing new; there are many of such cases leading to the rise of the infection rate.

Many energetic young people like Tindani are being bedridden by guinea worm causing greater harm to Ghana's human resource development. Most of the infected communities happened to be farming communities. Ghana has an unenviable position on the guinea worm table. It is the country worldwide with second highest number of infections after war-torn Sudan. Nigeria, which was the second on the list, has been able to reduce their cases making it a less endemic country. The disease, which was almost eradicated in the 1980s, resurfaced with the main problem being the unavailability of potable water. A total of 7,275 cases were recorded in 2004, representing a decrease of 12 per cent from 2003.

According to Dr Andrew Seidu Korkor, National Programme Manager of the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (GGWEP), the most endemic districts are in the Northern, Volta, Brong Ahafo and Upper West Regions.

He said 2,659 cases had been recorded from January to June 2005 representing 53 per cent reduction compared with the same period last year.

He said though other districts were making tremendous reductions, Wa, Jirapa, Atebubu, and Sekyere East continued to report increases in their cases.

"Apart from the fact that there has been a general increase in reported cases the situation is alarming and there is still more to be done to eradicate guinea worm from the country," Dr Korkor said. "There is now more manpower to help in the search of cases and its proper management; surveillance system has also been strengthened giving us the accurate reporting and the real situation on the ground," he said.

Guinea worm is water borne disease that infects anyone who drinks untreated water infected with cyclops.

The cyclops develops into the egg of the worm, which takes a year to incubate.

Dr Korkor said GGWEP was collaborating with the Ghana Red Cross Society, WHO, USAID, Church of Christ, Ministries of Works and Housing, Health and Local Government and Rural Development to fight the disease. Many boreholes have been drilled in the endemic communities while those with dams have been fenced to prevent infected persons from entering and animals from drinking from the same water source. According to Mr Jim Nquitte of the Cater Centre, one of the main collaborators, funds have been provided for the drilling of more boreholes and solar powered filtered system for the top four endemic communities in 2004-Daire, Chhirifoyili, Gburimani and Sang.

Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Minister of Health, during the national conference on the disease in Accra in August asked what was preventing Ghana from eradicating the disease if other countries had been able to do so.

He said the disease could be prevented if the learnt learned how to use the filters properly, treated water from unhygienic source, motivated volunteers, provided more transportation in terms of motorcycles and bicycles and set up more containment centres. Do we have to wait for the human resource of the country to be bedridden by guinea worm?

Providing potable water and proper usage of filters where necessary could prevent guinea worm so why do we wait? Let us all rise to join hands and resources to eradicate the disease to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. 14 Sept. 05

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