News

South Sudan Inches Closer to Eradicating Guinea Worm

A guinea worm emerges from the leg of a south Sudanese girl in Juba. (File Photo)
A guinea worm emerges from the leg of a south Sudanese girl in Juba. (File Photo)
Andrew Green

South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is on the brink of its first health-care success.  Cases of guinea worm have dropped dramatically in the past five years and there is hope that in 2012 transmission will be stopped completely.

Transmission of the worm

On the road to Terekeka, in central South Sudan, Makoy Samuel Yibi patrols passersby carrying water. Yibi is the director of South Sudan’s guinea worm eradication program. Of the four countries in the world that still have reported cases of guinea worm, South Sudan has the most, by far. Yibi is on a quest to stop transmission of the worm this year.

Among other things, that means making sure people get their water from safe sources, like boreholes, because drinking water gathered from ponds can harbor guinea-worm larvae. Once consumed, the larvae can grow into yard-long worms that later emerge through the skin.

The guinea worm infestation exploded in South Sudan during the country’s decades of independence conflict with the North. The fighting made the disease difficult to track and treat. By 2006, the year after a comprehensive peace agreement was signed, there were more than 20,000 guinea-worm cases in what is now South Sudan.

Carter Center

Yibi’s program, with extensive support from the Carter Center of the United States, has managed to drop that number to slightly more than 1,000 cases in 2011. The goal is to contain all of this year’s guinea worm patients and completely stop transmission.

“In fact, people can argue that this is an unparalleled achievement in the eradication campaign, said Yibi. "At this stage now, we believe it is possible to get to zero. It is possible to interrupt transmission.”

That will require successfully tracking every guinea-worm case this year. By the end of February, five cases had been reported in South Sudan. Those patients have to be contained or they risk contaminating their community’s water sources. It is not an easy task, because the pain of an emerging worm often drives people to soak the wound in water. That allows the worm to deposit new larvae.

Agonizing worm

Alphonse Busok knows how agonizing a guinea worm can be. Five years ago one emerged from a blister on the back of his foot.

“I feel that my body is not good and the weather is very cold and my body is itchy," said Busok. "I did not do any work and I stayed at home. After that I saw the guinea worm getting out from my body.”

Like Busok, many people who are afflicted with guinea worm are unable to work. Yibi says this can devastate families.

“If somebody, for instance the breadwinner in the family, gets guinea worm, then you have a situation where somebody for an average of one month will not able to do any work," said Yibi. "And, of course, that has a serious connection with productivity.”

No cure

Although there is no cure for guinea worm, it is preventable. The Carter Center’s advisors travel the country’s endemic areas, encouraging people to use clean water sources or to use simple cloth filters to trap the larvae. Teams treat ponds with chemicals to kill the larvae.  And, they warn communities to keep people with guinea worm away from water to prevent contamination.

The program has also set up containment centers to treat people who are infected. As the guinea worm slowly emerges, it is wrapped around a stick until it is completely out of the body. Yibi said the program was able to contain nearly 75 percent of the cases in 2011.
He credits community involvement for the program’s success. Staff members rely on a network of volunteers to identify potential cases and start treatment. There are more than 8,000 volunteers across South Sudan’s endemic areas.

The volunteers are also responsible for keeping the community vigilant. Even after the worm has disappeared, there is still a risk that it will re-emerge. Complete eradication will require people to continue to filter their drinking water or to get it from boreholes.

Water safety

Mary Bate fetches her family’s water. It has been more than two years since there was a case of guinea worm in her community. But she always gets her water from a borehole because she knows it is safer than the ponds that spring up when it rains.

“We take our water from the borehole because it is clear and the water of the rainy season is not good and it has guinea worm,” she said.

If the project successfully contains all of the cases that develop this year, there is the possibility that South Sudan could be guinea-worm free as early as next year. That could be the biggest health victory in this country’s short history.

This story was reported for VOA in collaboration with the International Reporting Project.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs