|© The Carter Center|
|Former US President Jimmy Carter; Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Kul C. Gautum; and Director-General of WHO Dr. Lee Jong-wook examine a Guinea worm patient.|
Director-General of WHO Dr. LEE Jong-wook and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Kul C. Gautam joined Carter on the field trip hosted by the Ghana Minister of Health Dr. Kweku Afriyie.
"There is no excuse for the unnecessary suffering caused by Guinea worm disease," said Jimmy Carter, Carter Center chair and 2002 Nobel laureate at a press conference that followed in Tamale. "In Ghana, the resources, support, knowledge, and ability to eradicate Guinea worm disease are in place. It is up to Ghana to commit to the challenge by taking swift and immediate action."
As of January 2004, the global guinea worm eradication campaign is now fighting the last 1 percent of Guinea worm disease remaining in the world. Ghana accounted for 27 percent of the approximately *35,000 cases reported in 2003.
On behalf of the President and the people of Ghana, Dr. Afriyie accepted the challenge, saying, "Ghana must raise public awareness and gain a sense of urgency at all levels to turn its numbers around and no longer hold the title of most endemic Guinea worm country in West Africa. Ghana will meet this challenge by making Guinea worm a priority, providing improved water supply to endemic communities, and increasing health education."
While Ghana swiftly reduced Guinea worm cases when the program started in 1989, surges in cases in the mid and late 1990s paved the way for Ghana to rank as the second most highly endemic country in the world in 2003, second only to Sudan which has been grappling with a civil war for more than 20 years. By the end of 2003, 8,283 cases were reported, a 48 percent increase in cases reported compared to a year earlier. According to a UNICEF 2003 progress report on Guinea Worm in Ghana, an estimated 40 percent of those afflicted with the disease are schoolchildren.
"The eradication of Guinea worm will be a major public health victory with a significant impact on children, who make-up more than a third of cases worldwide," said Kul Gautam of UNICEF.
While in Ghana's most endemic region, the team met with Guinea worm patients in the community, visited a water source and Guinea worm care center, and participated in health education sessions. The delegation also discussed Ghana's current obstacles and ways to reinvigorate eradication efforts with local, regional, and national leaders during an hour-long meeting.
Guinea worm disease is expected to be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated, and the first disease to be eradicated without vaccines or medications. It is contracted when people consume stagnant water, contaminated with microscopic water fleas carrying infective larvae. Inside a human's abdomen, the larvae mature and grow, some as long as three feet.
After a year, the worm slowly emerges through a painful blister in the skin, usually on the lower limbs.
Since the Guinea worm eradication campaign began in 1986, the disease has been reduced by 99 percent from 3.5 million to approximately *35,000 reported in 2003. With 13 of the 20 endemic countries free or nearly free of Guinea worm, the disease only remains in parts of Ethiopia and Uganda, West Africa and Sudan - Guinea worm eradication is in sight.
"The eradication strategies have been applied in all Guinea worm endemic countries and focus on three main measures: making water safe, effectively managing and containing cases, and providing health education. Through these, the transmission of the disease can be stopped entirely, here in Ghana and in all remaining affected countries," said Dr. LEE of the WHO.
The Carter Center, the WHO, and UNICEF are working together in collaboration with the national programs for the final push to eradicate Guinea worm disease. Other important partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Peace Corps, UN Foundation, and the governments of Japan, United States, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Denmark, Kuwait, and the United Kingdom. Members of the general public can continue to accompany President Carter virtually by visiting www.cartercenter.org as President Carter “blogs,” or publishes regular journal entries from the field. Beginning Feb. 2, the reports on the Carter Center’s Web site will share his thoughts and feelings during his journey in West Africa.
(*2003 provisional numbers)
The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide. A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, the Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 65 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers to increase crop production. To learn more about The Carter Center and Guinea worm disease, please visit: www.cartercenter.org.
The World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for health, was established on 7 April 1948. WHO's objective, as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO's Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. www.who.int
UNICEF works in 158 countries to ensure that all children survive and thrive through adolescence. UNICEF’s efforts on the ground emphasize immunization and micronutrients; the best start in life, including safe water and sanitation, basic health and nutrition, and loving interaction; education for all children; fighting HIV/AIDS and caring for children orphaned by the disease; and a protective environment that shields children from abuse, exploitation and violence. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from governments, foundations, businesses and individuals. www.unicef.org
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