By: Chioma Umeha.
In a week time, Nigeria will formerly join the league of over 35 other African countries that have wiped out the guinea worm disease after it has received the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) certification if there is no report of new infection.
Precisely, between June 24 and July 14, the International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication of WHO will be in the country to certify Nigeria free of the disease, also known as dracunculiasis, a debilitating parasitic infection that affects people living in remote, poverty stricken communities. Also called ‘impoverisher’ in communities, guinea worm outbreaks in South East alone cost rice farmers an estimated $140 million annually within a period of seven years, 1988 and 1995. This is an equivalent of N22.4 billion today. Reports from the Carter Centre’s Guinea Worm Eradication Programme stated, “Disease outbreaks in south eastern Nigeria alone cost rice farmers an estimated $20 million annually in the late 1980s.” Also, a similar report from the centre in 2008 said the disease still cost $20 million in lost income to rice farmers alone as at mid 1990s. “In the mid-1990s, guinea worm infections in part of the heavily populated region of South East Nigeria caused an estimated $20 million in lost income to rice farmers alone,” the report said.
Reacting to what it cost Nigeria to eradicate the disease, Mr. Buki Ponle, member, NIGEP’s steering committee, said the loss could not be quantified in monetary terms. In an interview conducted on telephone, he said a farmer with guinea worm has trouble working. Mothers cannot take good care of their children or carry them to clinics for vaccination. Children lose many weeks of schooling, and eventually drop out of school. Similarly, the World Bank estimated $1 billion in annual loss in production of marketable goods in the early 1980s due to the disease. Carter Center worked with the Ministry of Health to spare thousands of people from suffering from this devastating disease, beginning from 1988. Between 1988 and 1989, Nigeria was the most guinea-worm-endemic country in the world, reporting more than 650,000 cases in 36 states. For instance, the country conceived the Nigeria Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (NIGEP) in 1988 to spearhead the eradication campaign in the country.
This story was published in Newswatch Times on June 11, 2013.