DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Guinea Worm Disease

By Caty Weaver

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

In Nineteen-Eighty-Six, the World Health Organization began a campaign to end guinea worm disease. At that time, there were more than three-million cases around the world each year. Now, there are fewer than one-hundred-thousand cases of the disease.

The World Health Organization's anti-guinea worm campaign involves a coalition with three other groups. They are the Carter Center, the World Bank and UNICEF.

Recently, the coalition received major financial help for its effort to end guinea worm disease. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave the coalition more than twenty-eight-million dollars. The foundation was created by the chairman of the American computer company, Microsoft Corporation.

Guinea worm is found in small towns and villages in thirteen countries in southern Africa. The director of health and nutrition at the World Bank says the disease affects the poorest populations in the poorest countries.

A guinea worm begins life as a very small organism called a parasite. It lives in water. People become infected with the parasite when they drink the water. The guinea worm lives in the person's body for about a year. It grows to about one meter in length and two millimeters around. The worm causes intense pain as it moves through the victim's body. Once it is full-grown, it breaks through the skin of its victim. This can cause fever, stomach sickness and vomiting. The worm usually leaves the body through the foot. This causes severe pain. The pain can be eased if the wounded foot is placed in water.

However, this also is how the disease spreads. Victims often find relief at the one water supply for their village. When the wound is placed in the water, the female guinea worm releases her embryos. The female worm may carry as many as three-million embryos. The water is then infected and the disease continues.

The WHO coalition teaches people not to drink water that contains the parasite. It also shows people how to clean the water. One method is to pour water through cloth to separate out any parasites. The coalition also treats water sources with a chemical that kills the parasite.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Caty Weaver. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English