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Journalists Recruited for Guinea Worm Education Campaign

In Ghana, officials of the guinea worm eradication program are recruiting journalists in a campaign against the disease that is endemic in some African countries. Efam Dovi reports from Ghana's capital, Accra, the Carter Center has been sponsoring a workshop for journalists as part of an effort to help educate the public about the disease.

Ghana recorded more than 4,000 cases of guinea worm infections last year, second only to Sudan. Guinea worm is known as a "forgotten disease" because it has been eradicated in most countries.

Organizers of the eradication program say journalists are an untapped resource in the fight to eradicate the disease in Ghana, which accounts for 14 percent of the world's cases.

The Carter Center's Jim Miguette says the media have a vital role to play.

"Most of the people back in the communities [where] we are working do not have access to television, but they almost all listen to the radio," said Jim Miguette. "And so that is certainly what we want is to incorporate the assistance of all these press people to help us there and also to help us in getting our message out to the political people in Accra and other places."

Watching a documentary on the eradication campaign, the more than 60 journalists in the program gasped as they saw health officials extracting guinea worms from the skins of infected people.

Guinea worm is a parasite disease that comes from consuming contaminated water. The worm causes severe pains and leaves its victims temporarily crippled, often for months.

In Ghana, 90 percent of the victims of guinea worm disease are in the northern part of the country. The manager of the guinea-worm program in northern Ghana, Gilbert Dery, says it has been difficult to eradicate the disease there because most communities lack adequate sources of clean drinking water.

He says it is important to educate people who live near infected communities.

"For people outside this [affected] area to appreciate why more needs to be done for those areas," said Gilbert Dery. "I also think that we should have some enforcement, using the environmental health officers, who will [prevent] people who still wade into water when they have guinea worm [disease] from wading into water."

Also at the program was Lamisi Mbillah, a beauty queen who was named Miss Ghana in 2005. She is using her popularity to create awareness of the disease. She says she has visited more than 30 infected communities, and says her efforts have been very rewarding.

"I call these people my brothers and sisters, my aunties, my uncles, because they are human beings just like me and to see them suffering the way that they are, just breaks my heart," said Lamisi Mbillah. "And I have had a great impact on their lives in my own small way. Just [to] see a smile on someone's face because they have heard something from me, makes me feel fulfilled."

Nana Yaa Agyeman-Asante is a reporter with an Accra based radio station who participated in the journalist program.

"I thought guinea worm was long gone, it [the workshop] just brought it all back to me, it was when I was growing up that I used to hear about guinea worm, and well knowing that it is a problem and we got to talk about it, I think it has been helpful," said Nana Yaa Agyeman-Asante.

There is no vaccine or immunity to the disease, but it can be kept from spreading by using simple filtering techniques, preventing infected persons from entering water sources, and ensuring that people who are infected get treatment.