There were only 148 cases of Guinea Worm infestations reported worldwide last year, which is a leap forward compared to the 3.5 million cases less than two decades ago. This disease is known to many as “dracunculiasis” which means, “affliction with little dragons,” due to the pain the worm causes on the skin. Hope remains for the few countries left on the Guinea worm-endemic list as complete eradication of the parasite may come at a faster rate than that of the polio virus.
The number of countries on the Guinea worm endemic list dropped from 21 to four. Ethiopia, Chad, Mali and South Sudan remain on the list, but there are now less than 200 cases compared to the millions that reported in 1986. South Sudan currently has the highest number of cases due to a resurgence that occurred last month when health workers were removed from the main eradication center due to fighting in the villages.
People acquire the worm by drinking contaminated water. When individuals drink the contaminated water, the pathogen enters the body where it remains for almost a month. During this time it matures into a worm that can grow up to 3 feet long. When it is ready, the Guinea worm exits from a blister on the individual’s skin inch by inch. In most cases, the exiting worm has contact with water, where it releases its larvae and the pathogen is able to spread to several people if they continue to drink from these shallow ponds. This microscopic parasite usually appears in isolated villages marked by these shallow water ponds.
Family economies also suffer as victims are unable to work or farm. The process is painful and as it emerges it cripples a person for several weeks. Young children who acquire the worm also miss school for several weeks.
Wiping out the Guinea worm has been quite the obstacle since there is no vaccine or medicine against the parasite. Health advocates usually visit various villages to educate families about the dangers of drinking contaminated water. They also explain how the water becomes contaminated when villagers place their infected limbs in shallow water ponds.
So far efforts to eliminate the Guinea Worm have cost around $350 million since 1986. This amount has almost solved the problem, while fighting off polio will cost upwards of $5.5 billion. Health workers note that eradication efforts are low-tech but can be easily implemented since the only strategy is to drink clean water and keep infections monitored. Officials from the Carter Center, the main operation center against Guinea Worm cases, are confident about eliminating the parasite if they continue their same efficient methods.
– Maybelline Martez