|© UNICEF Ghana/2007/Asselin|
|At a Guinea worm containment centre in Ghana, health workers remove the parasitic worms from children's ankles.|
By Junko Mitani
ACCRA, Ghana, 15 June 2007 – At a Guinea worm containment centre in Savelugu, northern Ghana, Assana Mohammed, 10, cries out in pain. Her eyes are shut and she cannot help but try to remove the health worker’s hand from her wound. Little by little, he is extracting a long white Guinea worm from her ankle.
Guinea worm, a parasite, gets into the human body when a person drinks water infested with fleas that have ingested the larvae. The worms grow inside the body, sometimes reaching more than a metre in length and eventually erupting through the skin.
The condition causes unbearable pain for weeks and months, preventing the sufferer from engaging in daily activities. Guinea worm therefore has an adverse economic and social impact, in addition to its terrible health effects.
Infections on the rise
Assana is one of more than 2,000 children who suffer from Guinea worm in Ghana, where 4,130 cases – the second highest number of any country in the world – were reported in 2006. And the number of victims seems to be on the rise. By the end of March this year, over 2,200 cases had been reported, already more than half of last year’s total.
|© UNICEF video|
|Children in Ghana carry water that may be contaminated with Guinea worm larvae.|
To address this serious situation, in late May the European Commission and UNICEF Ghana reached agreement on a €20 million project to support the country’s Guinea worm eradication efforts. Under the agreement, the EC and UNICEF will provide €14.5 million and €5.5 million in funding, respectively. A signing ceremony was held in Accra on 29 May.
“This project will support the implementation of water supply systems in nine districts in the Northern Region of Ghana, as well as the construction of sanitation facilities and education programmes,” the EC Head of Delegation in Ghana, H.E. Ambassador Filiberto Ceriani Sebregonti, explained at the signing.
Building on prior efforts
During the same event, UNICEF Acting Representative in Ghana Liv Elden Djokoto acknowledged Guinea worm eradication efforts already made by a number of partners – including the Ghana Health Service, the Ministry of Health, the Community Water and Sanitation Agency, the Environmental Health and Sanitation Directorate, the EC, the Carter Center, other UN agencies, traditional chiefs, community members and the media.
“It is important to note that this initiative aims at strengthening existing efforts and building on existing networks,” said Ms. Djokoto. “Low-cost technology and alternative water supply options will be tested, and communication for behavioural change will be an integral part [of the programme] for people to practice adequate hygiene behaviour.”
The project aims to benefit 1 million people by 2011, including 40,000 children in the Northern Region, where Guinea worm is most endemic. If it succeeds, no more children will have to go through the kind of pain that Assana has endured.