War and lack of funds hinder eradication of Guinea worm disease, WHO warns

5 March 2002

With eradication within reach, armed conflict and lack of finances may yet hinder efforts to rid the world of Guinea worm disease, the United Nations health agency has warned.

With eradication within reach, armed conflict and lack of finances may yet hinder efforts to rid the world of Guinea worm disease, the United Nations health agency has warned.

The past 12 years has seen the number of people infected by the Guinea worm drop by 98 per cent - raising hopes of completely eradicating the disease - but now the number of cases is again increasing in the dozen of countries still plagued by the disease, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement Monday. For example, in Mali, the number of cases soared by 140 per cent from 2000 to 2001.

The source of the Guinea worm is found in polluted drinking water. In 1991, WHO and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a campaign aimed at eradicating the worm by providing access to safe drinking water through filtering water and digging new wells. Their efforts have succeeded in reducing the number of Guinea worm patients from one million in 1989 to 60,000 in 2001.

Armed conflict threatens to thwart these eradication efforts, WHO said. Sudan accounted for 80 per cent of the Guinea worm cases registered last year; almost all the cases occurred in the south, where civil strife has raged for 19 years. Additionally, wavering commitment by governments and donors prevent the campaign from reaching its final goal. As the number of worm cases declines, governments and donors may shift their attention to HIV/AIDS and other health emergencies.

"These challenges are not biological," said Maria Neira, Director of the WHO Guinea Worm programme. "In fact, simple eradication tools have proven effective all over the world. Instead the remaining obstacles are all man-made. If we fail to solve these problems, the momentum toward eradication may stall and the disease will rebound."

 

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