|A boy scoops muddy water into a plastic container in Ghana’s Northern Region, where a shortage of safe water is making the community susceptible to Guinea worm disease.|
ACCRA, Ghana, 20 January 2009 – Guinea worm disease is caused by a water-borne parasite that grows and matures in people, eventually causing burning blisters on the extremities. Once endemic to many poor regions of the world, the parasite is now mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa.
Children under 16, who are more likely to play in or drink from infected water sources, are disproportionately affected. One nation that is still fighting the parasite is Ghana, the home country of Bernice Akuamoah, a Voices of Youth and UNICEF Radio Digital Diarist. Since 2006, Bernice has been using recording equipment provided by UNICEF to tell stories from her life and the lives of her peers.
Recently, Bernice traveled with UNICEF Ambassador Hayley Westenra to a clutch of villages still suffering from Guinea worm disease outbreaks. Ms. Westenra is an internationally renowned singer from New Zealand who first visited Ghana in 2005.
Ms. Westenra noted that since her last visit, there has been a vast reduction in cases of the parasite, thanks to public education about the importance of water filtration as well as new borehole projects.
"The number of cases of guinea worm has dropped considerably, so that's really encouraging," she said. "But those remaining cases are going to be the hardest to catch. I've seen the children drinking from dirty ponds and not straining the water first, and, unfortunately, it will take a bit of time to get fresh, clean water into the villages."
Unable to walk
Bernice interviewed several children who have benefited from UNICEF-supported free treatment for Guinea worm disease in northern Ghana. One girl, Mbama, 14, says that when she had the parasite in her legs, she couldn't walk.
|A health worker at a UNICEF-supported treatment centre in Ghana slowly extracts a Guinea worm from a seven-year-old girl’s foot.|
"I was using a stick to walk, or to crawl," Mbama said. As a result, she was forced to miss weeks of school, before she was cured through the clinic in her village. Mbama's village now has a new borehole that provides clean water.
While 80 per cent of Ghana’s population is using improved drinking water sources, much work remains to be done.
UNICEF is working with the government and other partners to support health, nutrition, education and protection interventions, as well as a range of integrated water, sanitation and hygiene interventions. The hope is to finally eradicate Guinea worm disease in Ghana.
Bernice Akuamoah, a Voices of Youth and UNICEF Radio Digital Diarist, learns about Guinea worm disease.