Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has called for urgent action to eradicate guinea worm disease in Ghana. Guinea worm is a water-born worm infection that is contracted when people drink water containing the worm's tiny eggs. Inside the human body, the larvae mature, growing as long as one meter. After a year, the worm emerges through a painful blister in the skin, causing long-term suffering and sometimes crippling after-effects. Mr. Carter visited guinea worm endemic areas in Ghana Thursday. Efam Dovi filed this report for VOA from the Ghanian capital, Accra.
Former President Carter gave a chilling account of what he witnessed while visiting Savelugu, in the northern region of Ghana, where the Carter Center is supporting efforts to eradicate the disease.
"Little children, three, four, five, six-years-old screaming in pain while the guinea worm came out of different parts of their bodies, and it made me weep with sorrow and anger to see it happening," he recalled. "One older woman who told me she was 57-years-old had guinea worm coming out of the nipple of her breast and another one was coming from her genitals between her legs, and another one was coming out of each foot, she has four guinea worms. She says the last time she had guinea worm was 43 years ago when she was 15-years-old."
Northern Ghana accounts for 90 percent of Ghana's over 4,000 guinea worm cases.
Mr. Carter said Ghana is actually going backward in controlling the disease. He says the West African nation, is the only country in the world that is not making progress.
"We had at the beginning of our efforts, 20 countries with 3.5 million cases of guinea worm, now we have zero cases in Benin, Mauritania, Uganda, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Yemen, Senegal, India, Kenya, Pakistan, zero cases," Carter said. "Nigeria began with almost 750,000 cases last year they have 16 cases.
The former president said though the war in Sudan previously hampered eradication efforts, that country is now making progress.
He told VOA that until now, Ghana has not paid adequate attention to the disease and says like all other countries where progress has been made, government commitment is essential in stamping out guinea worm.
Mr. Carter calls for massive education of families living in guinea worm infected areas, increased use of water filters, as well as doubling containment measures, to stop those infected with the parasite from entering water sources.
The director general of Ghana Health Service, Professor Agyeman Badu Akosa, described the situation as embarrassing, admitting that Ghana was not winning the battle against the disease.
He says the country has an opportunity to redouble efforts to finally eradicate guinea worm.
"He (Carter) will visit Ghana next year, and I hope to God, by the time he gets here, guinea worm is either out of Ghana or we are just there," Akosa said, " in other words probably two cases, because if we don't do that I will find it very difficult to face this man again.
Guinea worm is a parasitic, water-born disease that is contracted when people drink infected water.