Disease in South Sudan

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world and with this has come significant growing pains. Despite the ongoing civil war, the alleviation of disease in South Sudan is quickly becoming one of its positive developments. The most recent example was the announcement of the eradication of the guinea worm within the country’s borders.

What is the Guinea Worm and Who Does it Affect?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), guinea worm disease only affects the poorest 10 percent of the world’s population. Specifically, it occurs in people who do not have access to clean water or health care.

The disease takes hold when the worms swim around stagnant ponds and find their way into people who drink water from contaminated ponds. The disease takes a year to manifest, and once it shows, patients have severe flu-like symptoms and blisters that cause intense pain and disability. The most efficient way for subjects to relieve the pain is to dunk the affected area, almost always the foot or leg, into water. In the water, the worms spawn thousands of larvae, thus restarting the cycle.

Eradication of the Disease in South Sudan

Dr. Riek Gai Kok, South Sudan’s health minister, announced the end of the guinea worm disease in South Sudan at the Carter Center in Atlanta at the end of March. The Carter Center, a philanthropic organization started by former president Jimmy Carter, has provided much assistance to the world’s youngest nation.

In efforts to help eradicate guinea worm, the Carter Center has distributed a pesticide to one volunteer in each Sudanese village affected by the parasitic worm. The volunteer then pours the pesticide into all the ponds in and around their town.

It has been 15 months since the last case of guinea worm disease in South Sudan, longer than the incubation period for the worm, but still short of the three year period required by the World Health Organization to officially declare the guinea worm extinct in the area. Still, Dr. Kok thanked the organization and the thousands of volunteers it trained.

This year will be an important one to identify the benefits of eliminating the disease in South Sudan. Most cases appear in July, which is a crucial time for the agrarian population in the country, and the worm can cripple entire villages.

Why Eradication is Important

Even though guinea worm disease seldom ends in death, the disease is still debilitating. It handicaps its victims on average for around two months, but sometimes the incapacitation is permanent. More than 90 percent of South Sudanese citizens depend on labor occupations like fishing, herding or farming for sustenance and employment. So, when disability removes the victim from the workforce, there are devastating results.

To compound this, a workforce shortage resulting from the mass exodus during the civil war forced children into the fields. According to the CDC’s statistics, in villages where guinea worm disease is most prevalent, over 60 percent of children miss school.

This is the main reason why eliminating guinea worm disease in South Sudan is so important. The connection between the disease and poverty is circular. While the illness is a result of living in destitute conditions, it also is a significant cause of poverty when it keeps its victims and their families from completing their jobs or from going to school.

As a result, government officials are pleased about eradicating the disease in South Sudan because it is a boon to their public health system and long-term economy. Furthermore, in one of the most food insecure countries, the ability to have an entire harvesting season unabated by a preventable disease could be a major step toward ending famine and alleviating poverty in South Sudan.

– David Jaques

Photo: Flickr

preventable diseases
Approximately 6 million five-year-old and younger children die each year, mostly from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. The majority of these deaths are based in the world’s low- and middle-income countries where healthcare is limitedly available.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped launch the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) Network in an attempt to clearly understand the causes of illness and deaths due to preventable diseases for children in these areas.

Even though reducing mortality rates for children under the age of five is a key objective for global development initiatives, major gaps in health surveillance, research and cause-of-death determination still exist throughout the world.

Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa account for over 82 percent of these deaths, with children in Sub-Saharan Africa being 15 times more likely to die before reaching age five than children in high-income countries.

CHAMPS – made up of the Emory Global Health Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the International Association for National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), the Public Health Informatics Institute at the Task Force for Global Health and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) – will focus on these two regions in order to gather better data about how, where and why children are becoming sick and dying.

After an intensive selection process and with the high percentage of under-five deaths in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa in mind, CHAMPS announced its first three sites on June 14:

  • Soweto, South Africa
  • Manhiça, Mozambique
  • Bamako, Mali

CHAMPS will help each of these sites build surveillance infrastructure and train local site staff. The data collected from each location will then be shared with scientists, health officials and others around the world in an attempt to stimulate advocacy and research.

Results from the data-driven surveillance networks will also, in turn, inform treatment and research decisions for numerous childhood diseases, attract more funding for vaccine- and drug-related research and inform healthcare policy decisions for local and national governments.

“The data from CHAMPS will provide new tools to better protect children from preventable diseases. Six million preventable deaths each year is a reality none of us can accept. CDC is proud to work with Emory and the governments of South Africa, Mozambique and Mali on this important effort that will change that reality and provide healthier futures for millions of children and their families,” said Dr. Rebecca Martin, the director of CDC’s Center for Global Health.

With an initial commitment of up to $75 million by the Gates Foundation, CHAMPS is envisioned as a long-term, 20-year initiative that will eventually reach up to 20 sites. As it expands, the network will provide capacity and training for situations such as the event of an epidemic (for instance, Ebola) in various sites, thus helping make the world a much safer place.

Alice Gottesman

Photo: Flickr

Less than half of the population in Uganda has access to health care. In addition, the country suffers from a deficit of 1.5 million health workers. It is therefore not surprising that treatable diseases are the leading cause of death in Uganda.

The government created the Village Health Team program in 2001 to focus on the lack of health workers. The joint program “Community Health Workers & Global Health” will be based in Uganda’s Mukono District, 13 miles from the capital Kampala. The Child Family Health International organization offers global health education programs that “broaden students’ perspective on global health.”

Child Family Health International (CFHI) is partnering with Omni Med to expand health care capacity from rural to central Uganda. This expansion will improve Omni Med’s training and surveillance of Village Health Team and allow participants to assist the locally-led capacity building and quality assurance.

Omni Med began its work in Uganda in 2008 and has since trained over 1,200 community health workers and established protected water sources and cookstoves as well as distributing insecticide-treated nets. These teams include health educators in rural villages who make a big difference in the health of the world’s poorest people.

Village Health Teams are elected by local villagers and tasked with educating locals with preventative health information, referring sick people to health care centers and tracking health trends for Uganda’s Ministry of Health.

Child Family Health International Global Health Scholars, also known as participants, will assist the Village Health Teams in providing locals in rural Mukono with the best preventative tool: knowledge.

Scholars will accompany the teams on their home visits, train and maintain the team’s health knowledge by teaching in quarterly meetings and aiding in other Omni Med local activities.

“We believe strongly that it is not enough to feel good about what we do–we have to measure the impact we make, and then adjust our programs based on the data,” president and founder of Omni Med, Dr. Ed O’Neil Jr said.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: PRweb, CFHI
Photo: Flickr