Ghana would in July finally declare a break in transmission of Guinea worm eradication to make the country free from the disease.
“It is only when Ghana has reported no indigenous transmission for a minimum of three years after breaking transmission that Ghana can be certified free of Guinea worm disease and eradication declared,” said Dr. Andrew Seidu Korkor, National Programme Manager, Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (GGWEP).
Speaking at the launch of the programme’s communication campaign strategy in Accra, he said apart from eight reported cases representing 97 per cent reduction from 242 cases reported over the same period in 2009, Ghana had not recorded any case to date.
Dr. Korkor said the success story to the attainment of such dramatic reduction of the disease was that Ghana Health Service (GHS) and GGWEP did respond swiftly to the situation by not only intensifying all programme interventions to contain the situation but also worked with the district assemblies and partners to improve water supply to the townships of all endemic areas.
He explained that the disease was now limited to a few spots in the Northern Region, particularly in the Central Gonja District but since access and use of potable water was not universal; the risk of re-infection could not be ruled out until the last case had been detected and contained.
The Minister of Health, Mr Joseph Yieleh Chireh, said Ghana had achieved 99.9 per cent reduction of the Guinea Worm disease since the inception of the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme in 1989 adding that the feat could not be attained without government commitment.
According to him, the government had made available funds in excess of GH¢2,500,000 to the programme since 2005 and noted that the Ministry would continue to work with their partners who had been of immense help to ensure that field operation continued uninterrupted.
He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) with support from the Gates Foundation was supporting Ghana to strengthen surveillance for Guinea worm and other related diseases throughout the country in addition to the programme’s communication strategy.
Mr Yieleh Chireh said the cash reward of GH¢20 instituted for reporting Guinea worm cases by GHS should be increased to GH¢100 and should not only be for cases of Guinea worm but all hanging worms, blisters and sores to enable Ghana achieve certification.
While congratulating the stakeholders for the impressive gains, he cautioned the GHS and Ghanaians against complacency and urged all to redouble their efforts towards an effective surveillance system.
“I implore you everyone not only to continue the fight but fight harder until certification is achieved.”
Naa Professor John Nabila, the President of the National House of Chiefs, who chaired the function, said the debilitating effects of the worm had caused negative effects on the socio-economic development such as low productivity from farmers, malnutrition and school absenteeism from the resulting pain, crippling effects and sometimes severe incapacitation of many people.
“From my perspective as a traditional ruler and development advocate, it is my wish that everyone in Ghana attains the best possible health to enhance his optimum productive capacity in order to move our development agenda forward,” he said.
Naa Professor John Nabila expressed appreciation that after many years of waging war on the disease, Ghana was finally on the verge of eradicating it and that the process leading to the eradication of the disease would significantly contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
“Most significantly, it has enhanced collaboration among partners and lead to the improvement of safe water supply to many communities,” he added.
Representatives of Carter Centre, UNICEF, WHO and JICA commended Ghana for tirelessly and finally leaving the league of countries by the near break in transmission and cautioned them about complacency and urged them to double their effort in surveillance by being vigilant and increase awareness on protection and reporting of cases.
Guinea worm disease is a parasitic worm infection that occurs mainly in Africa.
It is also called dracunculiasis, and people get infected when they drink standing water containing a tiny water flea that is infected with the even tinier larvae of the Guinea worm.
Inside the human body, the larvae mature, growing as long as three feet.
After a year, the worm emerges through a painful blister on the skin, causing long-term suffering and sometimes crippling after-effects.
Infection can be avoided, even in areas where the disease is very common, through the use of water that has been filtered or obtained from a safe source.
There is the need to keep people with an open Guinea worm wound from entering ponds or wells used for drinking.