05.04.2005 General News

Guinea worm eradication review meeting opens

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Accra, April 5, GNA - Ghana is taking steps that would lead to the total eradication of guinea worm in the next five years, Major Courage Quashigah (rtd) Minister of Health said on Tuesday.

Major Quashigah said to show commitment to the eradication programme, "the Government alone had provided about 1.3 billion cedis as direct support for programme activities including training of volunteers in endemic villages; procurement of emergency and essential supplies and transport comprising of 10 motor cycles and 100 bicycles".

He said education and awareness creation and general monitoring and prevention had also been stepped up, with further directives from the Ghana Health Services to all Regional and District Directors to give guinea worm eradication top priority in their budgets and plans. Major Quashigah said these in a speech read for him by Mr Samuel Owusu Agyei, Deputy Minister of Health, at the opening of the 10th National Programme Manager's Review Meeting of the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme.

Major Quashigah said being the second most endemic country in the world apart from Sudan, Ghana seemed to be holding the rest of the world back on the way to eradicating of the disease.

He noted that the continued occurrence of the disease in known endemic areas, with periodic outbreaks in new areas were obvious indications that Ghana in the past, failed to take all the rights steps towards the achievement of a sustainable goal.

"It is my firm belief that for the results that we are looking for, we may need to switch from guinea worm control to proper eradication mode, where every case is followed and a real onslaught is launched on the disease focusing on the 20 districts," he said.

The Health Minister noted further that this may call for a different approach and attitude altogether and would require increasing resource allocated for the purpose.

Major Quashigah expressed regret that the provision of potable water to guinea worm endemic communities had always lagged behind the other interventions throughout the eradication programme, as the role of the MOH in the past had always been limited to that of advocacy.

He, however, said the Ministry in partnership with the Ministry of Works and Housing and its development partners had worked towards the provision of potable water to the endemic villages.

"Late in 2003, through the combined efforts of the Ministers of these two ministries, government released a total of 1.4 million dollars from the HIPC Fund for the provision of 180 boreholes in 135 guinea worm endemic villages in the Brong Ahafo, Northern and Volta Regions," he said.

The Minister reported that work was progressing steadily on the provision of additional water supply and expressed the hope that work on the second phase of the projects would be completed by the first quarter of 2005.

Major Quashigah called on all members of endemic communities to cooperate with the authorities by being responsible to ensure the success of the eradication programme.

He said the need to be committed to the cost involved in the eradication of guinea worm was paramount to preventing a further hold on the rest of the world in its quest to achieve global eradication of the disease.

Mr Donald R. Hopkins, Associate Executive Director of The Carter Centre (TCC), urged the Government to pay particular attention to water supply in guinea worm endemic communities as a priority intervention towards ensuring success in eradicating the disease.

"You must intensify monitoring and ensure that persons with guinea worm diseases are detected before or on the same day their worm emerges and are cared for in primary health care facilities," he said.

Mr Hopkins announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had agreed to provide a challenge of 25 million dollars to the TCC for their campaign and to make guinea worm the first parasitic disease to be eradicated.

He said the Canadian International Development Agency and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundations, had responded to the challenge by pledging matching support in the amounts of five and one million dollars, respectively, to the noble effort.

Dr Melville George, WHO Country Director, stated that since guinea worm was a disease of poverty, its eradication should be seen in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

He noted that Africa was the worst when it got to sanitation and the need to invest in efforts to rid the region of pollution must be urgently considered as a step in the fight against the numerous diseases and outbreak of epidemics.

He urged guinea worm endemic countries, including Ghana to partner with countries with success stories to achieve progress and results. General Yakubu Gowon, Ex-President of Nigeria and Eminent Person on the Guinea Worm Programme, Nigeria, pledged his support towards ensuring that Ghana achieved its target.

He said the meeting would be spelling out a decisive strategy to ensure that guinea worm was totally eradicated from the face of the earth.

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