Kenya soon to be declared guinea-worm free

Saturday January 23 2016


Kenya May be declared guinea worm free before the end of this year following no report of the disease over the past three months.

The Ministry of Health launched a campaign in October last year to establish whether the disease still existed in the country. A financial reward of $1,000 was offered for each report of the disease but no takers came forward.

According to Prof Njeri Wamae, chair of the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, the guinea worm awareness campaign reported no case of infection.

Kenya is the only country in East Africa that had not been certified free of the disease, more than 10 years after the last case was reported.

The last guinea worm case in the country was reported in 1994 although a case from a neighbouring country was reported in 2005.

South Sudan recently announced that it was on the verge of eliminating the guinea worm after recording just five cases last year a more than 90 per cent drop from 2014, when 70 cases were recorded — the highest number globally.

Last year, there were 22 cases in just four nations across Africa, compared with 3.5 million in 20 countries in 1986.

The disease now exists only in Chad, Ethiopia and Mali. In 2015, Chad recorded nine cases; Mali had five and Ethiopia three,
The guinea worm disease is classified among the neglected tropical diseases (NTPs) still endemic in some countries in Africa and Latin America. It spreads through drinking water contaminated with guinea worm eggs.

It is a parasitic worm and a disease that is transmitted through contact with contaminated water. In its larval state, this parasite takes up residence inside tiny water fleas called cyclops. People become infected by drinking this water without filtering it.

Also known as dracunculiasis, Latin for “little dragons,” the long white worms dig through the body towards the skin, releasing chemicals to burn the flesh and then spewing.

“The breeding cycle can be broken by making sure people do not wash in sources of drinking water while the worm is emerging from the skin,” said Prof Wamae, adding that the disease affects productive people. “It’s very painful and people can’t work. Then it becomes an economic hazard. Children just become bedridden.”

No drugs are currently available to prevent or heal this parasitic disease; it is, however, because of its low cost, easy and unambiguous diagnosis and immobile transmission agent, easy to combat and should no longer be prevalent.

It is the first parasitic disease in history set for eradication purely through behaviour change.