Home > Health > Last Traces of Guinea Worm Disease Wiped Out in Ghana

Last Traces of Guinea Worm Disease Wiped Out in Ghana

The last traces of guinea worm infestation in the Northern Region have been wiped out following the successful eradication of the disease at Fufulso in the Central Gonja District.

DR Yasmin drinking potable water

The Central Gonja District experienced an upsurge of the disease last year with Fufulso accounting for 62 percent of all reported cases. However, following interventions geared towards eradicating the disease under UNICEF’s ‘Integrated Approach to Guinea Worm Eradication through Water, Sanitation and Hygiene’ (IWASH) Project, the disease was totally eradicated.

The IWASH project combined behavioral change education with the provision of potable water which saw the construction of over a hundred new water sources, including 93 boreholes and nine hand-dug wells while 108 bore holes were also rehabilitated.

Salisu Be-Awuribe drinking potable water

Under the project, 25 water schemes were completed with the result that the provision of potable water to guinea worm endemic communities increased from 45 percent in 2008 to 73 percent in 2009 and 79 percent in March this year. Almost 148,000 people in previously guinea worm endemic communities now have access to improved water sources.

More than 2000 Community Based Hygiene Volunteers have also received training on behavior change and are supporting hygiene behavior change at community level in beneficiary communities to bring about a permanent change in behavior to sustain the success of the project.

Under the sanitation aspect of the project, latrines have been constructed in 4,336 households with a usage rate of 87 percent while 58 communities have reached open defecation free status.     

During a visit to the Central Gonja District by Ambassador Claude Maeten, Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Ghana which saw the commissioning of three water projects, he  expressed surprise that there was no single guinea worm case in the district.,

 “I was here to see something but there is nothing to see because Ghana is totally free of guinea worm and it is a great achievement. UNICEF did very well with the money pumped into this area and Ghana deserves more support in this area”, the Ambassador said.

Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF country representative, who was equally surprised at how all traces of the disease had been wiped out, asked “what happened in Central Gonja to make sure that the disease was contained?’ She also wanted to know whether it was possible to sustain such a feat without communities where the disease was previously endemic slipping back into old behavioral practices that brought about the disease in the first place.

Dr Yasmin said in spite of the success chalked by eradicating the disease, there is still a long way to go even though six months down the line there have been no cases. She said the eradication programme still needed about two years of work to ensure that while the disease is not that visible, people do not go back to old habits. Hence, the biggest challenge was how to sustain behavior change to sustain the eradication of the worm.

 Mr. Salisu Be- Awuribe, Central Gonja Chief Executive, attributed the success of the eradication exercise to the willingness of all partners such as the Carter Center, and the Ministry of Health to get themselves involved in the eradication exercise on the ground coupled with the sustained efforts of the volunteers who reached out to the communities by knocking on their doors, giving them the filters and guiding them to use the filters well. They shared ideas, addressed the issues on the ground and attended meetings regularly which also contributed to the success of the programme.

However, the greatest contributor to the success of the programme was the dispelling of old age believes that had been a big hindrance to behavioral change in the past. “The hitherto myth that guinea worm is not from water but from spiritual and other means has almost died out.” The District Chief Executive said.  

Mr. Be-Awuribe said in spite of the new water sources that have recently been constructed in the district under the IWASH project, water coverage in the district is just about 30 to 36 percent. Meanwhile, estimates on the amount of money required to provide potable water to all parts of the district in order to achieve 100 percent water coverage is 12 million US dollars.

“UNICEFS investments in Central Gonja alone is about half of this amount but has not yielded the required yields. The District is ready to partner any organsaition that comes with this kind of support. A lot has been done but the battle is not yet over”, he said.

He disclosed that the communities rely on animal husbandry for an income hence  are also concerned about getting water for their animals: “most communities will like to have dugouts rather than boreholes because they believe dugouts can serve a mufti purpose function such as providing water for animals, backyard gardens, and domestic activities” . Hence, he appealed to UNICEF and other water service providers to consider a technology that combines dugouts with the provision of potable water.

Mr. Be- Awuribe  admitted that due to the nature of the communities a sudden  pull out after the eradication exercise will spell doom since  people will go back to the old ways of doing things which would undermine  all achievements hence the need to put in place checks and balances to sustain behavioral change.

He said another issue that deserves attention is how to sustain the water systems that have been put in place. Presently, Fufulso has an emergency treatment plant and the dam that provides water for the plant is running out of water. He said even though efforts are underway to use two other dams to sustain the project, if water runs out or the system breaks down, what will be the fate of the people?

The Director General of Ghana Health Service, Dr Elias Sory, congratulated the people of the Central Gonja District for shelving their traditional believes about guinea worm disease and accepting the health messages that eventually led to the eradication of the disease.

He cautioned them to take care of the water systems that have been provided for them and not to view them as the property of government but as their own property. He urged them to adopt a maintenance culture towards the systems and strive to maintain them rather than allowing them to break down for them to carry out repair works.

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