Neglected tropical diseases

Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease): sprinting towards eradication

23 February 09 | Geneva

Children carrying water

Some 20 years ago, an estimated 3.5 million cases of dracunculiasis, more commonly known as guinea-worm disease, occurred in about 20 countries worldwide. Today, this number has dwindled to 4619 cases found mainly in six African countries.

The reduction in the number of cases reported to WHO has been consistent. In 2007, there were 9585 reported cases compared with 4619 cases in 2008. Today, WHO is calling for heightened surveillance of guinea-worm disease to enable its speedier eradication.

The target year for eradicating dracunculiasis is 2009. However, unanticipated circumstances have hampered interruption of transmission, generating a recurrence of the disease in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. With additional financial assistance and mobilization of resources, WHO hopes to speed up the process.

Play now audio summary–Dracunculiasis
00:03:33 [mp3 2,03Mb]

“We have had cases of resurgence that can be attributed to lapses in surveillance and supervision. Mobility of individuals across national and international borders, civil strife and security reasons further negatively impact their containment. Once resurgence of cases is reported in previously freed areas or in areas never affected before, it sets back the eradication clock for that particular country. The year 2009 being the target year to stop all guinea-worm transmission, every worm needs to be detected and adequately contained before it can contaminate water sources.”

Dr Gautam Biswas, Project Manager, WHO Enhanced Guinea Worm Eradication Programme

Maintaining a heightened surveillance system after the last case of guinea worm disease has been recorded is strategically challenging. It involves mobilizing health workers as well as logistic and administrative support, including mobilization of endemic communities. At this point, improved and accurate coordination between field staff and reporting channels becomes important. The way forward is to try and align as much as possible surveillance for guinea-worm disease in existing integrated surveillance systems, which may also need strengthening in many rural areas where the disease is endemic.

Guinea-worm disease, now found in the most deprived regions of Africa, is transmitted uniquely by drinking contaminated water. Affected populations are often unable to attend school, to farm or to do other work, resulting in increased poverty. The disease is easily prevented through simple measures such as filtering all drinking-water and educating infected people never to wade into water, which perpetuates the life-cycle of the disease.

Further information is available from the NTD web site on Dracunculiasis at:

More information:
Action Against Worms newsletter; special issue on dracunculiasis, February 2009, Issue 13
English [pdf 1mb]

Watch the final sprint – A WHO documentary
00:13:50 [wmv 160 kb]
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