Rotary clubs celebrate success over Guinea worm in Ghana
Peter Coats, the grandson of Virginia Rotarian Kenneth Tuck, plays soccer with children in Dipale, Ghana, which has been free of Guinea worm since last year. The village is one of the last in Ghana to report a case of the parasite. Photo by Michael Shroyer
Rotary clubs in 14 districts and four countries are celebrating a milestone in the fight against Guinea worm in Ghana and setting their sights on their next target, a rare flesh-eating disease known as Buruli ulcer.
Walter Hughes, a member of the Rotary Club of Rocky Mount, Virginia, USA, says Ghana has not had a case of Guinea worm since May 2010. People contract the disease when they drink standing water containing a tiny flea that carries the worm’s larvae. The larvae, which can take a year to mature within the human body, cause long-term and sometimes crippling effects.
A victim of Buruli ulcer is treated in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Walter Hughes.
If no cases are reported through May 2011, Ghana will have broken the breeding cycle of the larvae. But a country must go three years without a reported incident for the World Health Organization to officially declare it free of Guinea worm. The parasite also remains endemic in Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan.
Because of the work in Ghana, RI President Ray Klinginsmith has appointed Hughes to speak on Rotary's behalf during a World Health Day event in Boston on 7 April. Hughes says he will stress the role that teamwork, both within and outside of Rotary, has played in the Guinea worm effort.
"It's exciting for me to see us reach this point, and I am honored to be chosen by President Ray to speak," says Hughes. "Whenever we can come together as a team, we can set our goals high and achieve those goals."
Clubs in Canada, Ghana, Switzerland, and the United States have supported the fight against Guinea worm with help from seven Foundation Matching Grants, totaling more than $1 million over six years, to provide safe drinking water to remote communities in northern Ghana. Rotarians worked with the Guinea Worm Eradication Programme, a partnership of the Carter Center and the Ghanaian government, to identify the best locations for wells and water systems.
Hughes says the wells motivated communities in Ghana to participate in other aspects of the eradication effort, such as detection, treatment, and prevention. He adds that the clubs would like to use the same approach to fight a new target, Buruli ulcer.
The microorganism that causes the tropical disease is from the same family of bacteria that causes tuberculosis and leprosy but has received far less attention. It is on the rise in West Africa.
The infection starts with a painless nodule, which develops into skin lesions as the disease progresses. If detected early, it can be easily treated by removing the nodule, but more advanced cases can result in disabled limbs and may require amputation.
Though researchers don’t know exactly how the infection is transmitted, they believe contaminated water and soil may play a role. The Rotary clubs of Thomasville, North Carolina, USA, and Sunyani Central, Ghana, have been approved for a global grant project with a total budget of US$190,000 to provide clean water through new boreholes and the repair of existing wells, as well as disease education and treatment.
Disease prevention and treatment is one of the areas of focus under The Rotary Foundation's Future Vision Plan.