Taking aim at Guinea worm in Ghana
A girl in Ghana holds up a bottle containing Guinea worm. Photo courtesy Walter Hughes
Rotarians in four countries are helping to eradicate Guinea worm in Ghana through a collaborative effort with the Carter Center and the Ghana Health Service.
Clubs in 13 districts in Canada, Ghana, Switzerland, and the United States have sponsored six projects funded by Rotary Foundation Matching Grants since 2005 to provide safe and clean drinking water to remote communities in northern Ghana. The Rotarians have worked with the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, a partnership of the Carter Center and the Ghanaian government, to identify the best locations for wells or water systems.
"They knew exactly where the cases were, so they could tell us, 'These are the towns that need wells,'" says Walter Hughes, president of the Rotary Club of Rocky Mount, Virginia, USA, which has been involved in the effort since 2006. "It's really a future vision before they had defined Future Vision. It's partnering with multiple clubs in multiple districts in multiple countries, and partnering with nongovernmental agencies."
The number of Guinea worm cases in Ghana has dropped from 4,136 in 2006 to 242 in 2009. Hughes says only four cases have been reported through February of this year, marking six months with three or fewer cases each.
"We are expecting by December to be able to claim victory in Ghana," he says. "It will take 12 months after that to certify they are gone."
Guinea worm is contracted when a person drinks standing water containing a tiny water flea that carries the larvae of the worm. The larvae take a year to mature within the human body, growing as long as 3 feet, and then emerge through a painful blister in the skin, causing long-term suffering and sometimes crippling effects.
The Matching Grants have funded projects to dig wells, drill bore holes, or provide mechanized water systems in areas hardest hit by the parasite. One effort funded a solar-powered mechanized water system in the remote area of Singa. Other projects led to two wind-powered systems that pump water from far away into villages. Providing safe drinking water is part of the Guinea worm eradication effort, in combination with treatment and education.
Hughes says the Rotarians also help repair wells. They work with local villages to create a water and sanitation committee that will charge for water, save the money, and use the savings to maintain or fix the well or water system.
"One of the things Rotary encourages is that it is sustainable," he says. "We encourage people to help us dig the well. Usually the town comes out and does what it can, clears land, brings food for the workers, whatever. When it is done, it is something they built and not just something that Rotary built."
The Rotary Club of Tamale, Northern Region, Ghana, with fewer than 25 members, has been the host partner for all but two of the Matching Grant projects. The two-year-old Rotary Club of Sunyani Central was the host club for the other two.
"The Rotarians in Tamale are really to be commended. They have traveled within three different states to eradicate this disease," Hughes says. "For a club that size to have accomplished this much is pretty amazing.
"It shows a small club can make a difference," he says.
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