Medics celebrate ‘re­mark­able’ step to elim­i­nat­ing flesh-bur­row­ing guinea worm

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Health work­ers cel­e­brated Fri­day a key step to­wards erad­i­cat­ing the flesh-bur­row­ing guinea worm af­ter South Su­dan, once by far the worst af­fected coun­try, said it had recorded no cases this year.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion called the re­sults “re­mark­able,” and the progress comes de­spite a civil war rag­ing in South Su­dan for the past 18 months.

In the mid-1980s, 3.5

mil­lion peo­ple in 20 coun­tries were in­fected with the wa­ter-borne par­a­site that causes ag­o­niz­ing pain and leaves suf­fer­ers un­able to func­tion for months. Now, apart from South Su­dan, guinea worms ex­ist only in Chad, Ethiopia and Mali.

“The task is not yet com­plete ... un­til there are zero cases of guinea worm through­out South Su­dan, and the coun­try is cer­ti­fied guinea worm free,” South Su­dan’s health min­istry said in a state­ment, an- nounc­ing cash re­wards for any­one re­port­ing a case to medics.

“Erad­i­ca­tion of this painful scourge is within our reach ... let us work to­gether in the fi­nal push.”

Lit­tle Dragons

South Su­dan’s health min­istry said that in 2006 there were over 20,500 recorded cases, while there has now been no recorded case since Oc­to­ber 2014.

The Carter Cen­ter — the not- for- profit or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter — has been work­ing in South Su­dan since 1989 to ex­ter­mi­nate the worm once and for all. The cen­ter said it was “thrilled” at the news.

If the cam­paign suc­ceeds, guinea worm will be­come the first par­a­sitic dis­ease to be erad­i­cated and only the sec­ond hu­man dis­ease to wiped out world­wide af­ter small­pox in 1979.

In 2014, South Su­dan re­ported the high­est num­ber of cases glob­ally, a to­tal of 70, far higher com­pared with the only other three coun­tries left with the worm — Mali where there were 40 cases, Chad where there were 13 and Ethiopia where there were just three.

Also known as dra­cun­cu­lia­sis, from the Latin for “lit­tle dragons,” the worm is a par­tic­u­larly painful wa­ter-borne par­a­site that can leave peo­ple weak­ened and sick for months ev­ery year.

Af­ter about a year feed­ing in­side the body, the long white worms dig through the body to­wards the skin, re­leas­ing chem­i­cals to burn the flesh and then spew­ing thou­sands of lar­vae as they exit.

Although there is no di­rect treat­ment, the breed­ing cy­cle can be bro­ken by mak­ing sure peo­ple do not wash in sources of drink­ing wa­ter while the worm is emerg­ing from the skin.

Worms mainly exit from the legs and arms but af­fected com­mu­ni­ties say they have been known to emerge from the head, sex­ual or­gans and even the eyes.

They must be slowly teased out by wrap­ping the wrig­gling worm around a stick — the re­ported ori­gin for the med­i­cal sym­bol of a snake coiled around a staff.

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