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Ex-President Carter and Guinea Worm Duel in Ghana

Tue, 17 Feb 2004 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature By B.D. Pobia

Tamale, Feb. 17, GNA - Dogs in Daashei, a village in the East Gonja District of the Northern Region, now have an additional role to play; they follow the scent of water instead of the scent of animals. If a dog had never led one to a water source to drink then rush to Daashei and just follow any dog that comes in the village and it would lead the one to the muddy and guinea worm infested dam, the only water source that serves the 16 communities and their animals, that live near.

In that community water is described as "tiger's milk". It is very scarce. A little drop of water is valued more than gold. Some inhabitants have to forgo bathing for a number of days. Most bathroom troughs from which the animals usually drink are dried up.

The situation is so serious that even dogs, the most cherished pets in the area, are denied water and this makes them to trace water scent to the dam to drink.

Former President Jimmy Carter of the United States and wife Rosalyn accompanied by a high powered UNICEF, WHO and Ghana Government, partners in a world-wide coalition against the guinea worm disease visited Dashei to contribute their quotas towards awareness creation in the fight and eradication of the guinea worm disease. The Northern Region has the highest prevalence rate in the country.

The Jantong/Dashei Traditional Area, a guinea worm endemic community in the East Gonja District, about 24 kilometres from Tamale, has the highest incidence of guinea worm disease in the Northern Region. The Dashei community alone recorded 615 cases of the disease 2003 out of the total 1,281 reported cases in the East Gonja District.

During Former President Carter's visit to the village, a "Defiant Dog" defied the security guards and sneaked to quench its thirst at the dam. As if that was not enough, two cows also broke through the security defence to get to the dam but the guards drove them away.

Since guinea worm can affect animals it is feared that sooner than later the animals in that community would also be infested with the worm.

These animals, which most family heads consider as their security, would die and poverty would grab the community. Food production would also suffer since it is these animals that they use to plough their farms. They are also used to pay dowry. Children's education in the communities would also not be spared.

President Carter sympathizing with seven children, aged between two and six years at the local guinea worm disease care centre said: "I am sorry you should have been in school by now but you are down with the guinea worm disease". He pledged to do everything possible to help provide potable water for the communities but urged the parents to filter their drinking water always.

Women normally walk from the village to fetch water during the early hours of the morning or just before dusk. When the sun is not so intense, they would normally go several times before they get enough for their households.

At the dam site, the women wade in the water and use calabashes to scoop water into large containers and when they are full, they carry them on their heads back to the village. Once in the house, the women would filter their water using cloth filters that have been provided to them by Global 2000, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO).

Madam Ayishetu Amadu, a pregnant woman, who was smarting under the weight of the water she was carrying in the hot sun, remarked: "The non-availability of water in the village is taking too much of our productive time."

Mr James Achana, East Gonja District Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (GWEP) Coordinator, told newsmen that the Carter Centre supplied GWEP with about 5,000 new pipe filters out of which 4,600 had been distributed to farmers, traders, hunters, school children and shepherds in the Jantong Traditional Area. The Dashei community alone had 670 of the filters.

These pipe filters are light and easy to carry. The idea is that individuals would carry them when leaving the house to the farm or to hunt and use them in a situation where they would have to drink unsafe water.

The dam has been identified as one of the main water sites responsible for the transmission of the guinea worm disease over the last several years and contributed a significant percentage to the 615 cases recorded in the Jantong Area in 2003.

Mr Achana said apart from teaching the people how to filter their water before drinking, the GWEP had also educated them on a variety of health education techniques and advised those infested with the guinea worm to stay out of the water.

As a supplementary measure, he said GWEP used a chemical called abate to treat the water during transmission season.

Notwithstanding all these interventions, Dr James Sakordee, East Gonja District Director of Health Services, attributed the high incidence of the disease in the area to the non-availability of potable water and the wrong use of the filters in most of the communities. Most of the women do not follow simple instructions given them at the Centre on water filtration. The Centre recorded 36 cases in January 2003, however only six were reported during the same period this year, Dr Sarkodee said.

The District recorded 1,285 cases in 2003 with the 16 communities in the Jantong area alone registering 615 cases, representing between 45 and 50 per cent.

The dam dries up between April and May every year and this impacts negatively on education as most school children leave the classrooms to travel about 20 kilometres in search of water from unsafe sources. Dr Sakordee said because of the long distances the women travelled in search of water, they would return home tired and unable to filter their water.

But President Carter has a different opinion about the high incidence of the disease in the area. To him, the provision of boreholes in guinea worm endemic communities is only a necessity but not a panacea to the eradication of the guinea worm disease.

He explained that the guinea worm disease had been eradicated in some countries without the provision of boreholes, saying, "the key to eradicating the disease is education and commitment of the people to practise safe ways of preserving their drinking water".

He said there was no excuse whatsoever for leaders in West Africa to fail their people in the fight to eradicate the guinea worm disease.

"There is no excuse for the needless suffering of the people caused by the guinea worm disease because "in Ghana, for instance, the ability, resources, knowledge and the support to fight and eradicate the disease are in place".

Mr Carter, therefore, called on the Government to commit itself to the challenge by taking swift and immediate action to fight the disease. He said the eradication campaign was now targeted at the last one per cent of guinea worm disease remaining in the world and "the Carter Center" was committed to ensuring that the last case in the world was eradicated.

He said Ghana accounted for 27 per cent of about 35,000 cases reported world-wide in 2003 and expressed the hope that the situation would be brought under control before the end of this year. Mr Yohoe Baba, a Public Servant who could not agree more with Mr Carter said: "In this country even the air that we breathe is politicised". Politics has occupied the minds of Ghanaians so much so that other sectors of development are ignored". According to him, if all were like Former President Carter, Ghana's development problems would have been solved by now.

He asked: "How many of our politicians care about what is happening in Jantong? How many of them have visited the community to find out about the guinea worm and how the people were coping with the disease?" The Jantongwura Ewun-Tomah Saaka I, in appreciation of Mr Carter immense contribution to the eradication of the guinea worm disease, enskinned the Former American President as Jantong Meligu Naa (Development Chief).

He described President Carter as "society redeemer and an African friend, who is always ready to help humanity.

"Mr Carter has been rendering good work to our society even though he had not previously visited our area", the Jantongwura said, adding, "Mr Carter has committed resources to help in the eradication of the guinea worm disease".

Jantonwura Ewun-Tomah urged Ghanaian politicians to emulate President Carter to make the country a better place worth living in. 17 Feb. 04

Columnist: GNA