Report Guinea Worm Case for GH¢200!
Fancy seeing and reporting a worm hanging provocatively from the leg of your neighbor to your community health officer and being rewarded with GH¢200 by the Ghana Health Service!
As it turns out, this is no advertisement gimmick. For almost four years, Ghana has had the status of a country in transition to eradicating the Guinea worm disease. With the last Guinea worm case being reported in May 2010 in Diare, a village in Northern Ghana, the country’s Guinea Worm Eradication Programme (GWEP) is on course to achieving total eradication status in July 2014. This will be when the country is assessed by a visiting international certification team. The programme, established in 1989, is thus leaving no stone unturned to demonstrate how actively apparently nonexistent cases are being searched for. The Guinea worm cash reward is one strategy to achieve this.
“To qualify for the money, all you need to do is to report seeing a hanging worm. At that point, it does not matter whether the worm is actually a Guinea worm or not. Once this is done, the community health nurse will document it in the rumor register, inform the district disease control officer, who comes to take a sample and reports to regional officials, who then submit it to the national office in Accra together with the appropriately filled case registration form. We then forward the sample to the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA for diagnoses. So far, we have sent about ten samples out of which only two tested positive,” explained Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe, Guinea Worm Programme Manager. Also, since January 2013, nine persons have been lucky recipients of this reward money, which was increased from GH¢100 to GH¢200 in 2010 by then Vice President Mahama.
International certification for eradication is however no walk in the park. To achieve this by July 2014 when the assessment visit by the international team is due, Ghana must not only demonstrate steps it has taken to create awareness but it should actually achieve public awareness of the Guinea worm cash reward among at least 85% of health workers and 70% of the population. So far, organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and JICA are supporting with televised announcements and 100 000 posters on the cash reward respectively. This is in addition to plans to enlist the support of community information centres, local gong gong beating systems and a national Guinea worm week in May 2014.
Increased public awareness on the cash reward aside, the international certification team will be assessing Ghana using other criteria. Chief among these would be how sensitive our current surveillance system for the disease is and also availability of safe potable water in formerly endemic areas. The target here is to get at least one safe water source (bore hole, tap water etc. ) per village in each of the 49 or so villages in which it was endemic as at 2009, a reduction from the 1200 endemic villages recorded in 2006.
Guinea worm contributes to school absenteeism, reduction in enrolment and reduction in farm work thus leading to decreased productivity. These have been prominent observations in the few remaining Guinea worm endemic countries like Ethiopia, Chad, South Sudan and Mali.
Asked for what additional support is required to ensure Ghana gets certified, Dr. Asiedu-Bekoe called for more airtime to educate the public, more funding to use community information centres and for central government to actively reach out to Municipal and District Chief Executives to facilitate the roll out of public awareness initiatives in their respective communities.
“We want this to be seen as a national effort. Guinea worm has associations with poverty and we do not think we belong to that class. If you look at the Guinea worm league, Ghana still remains part and we do not need to be there, especially as a low middle income country. The presence of Guinea worm in a low middle income country is an unfortunate paradox which we must not entertain. Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Niger have all done it in 2013. We think this is the time for Ghana to get certified for eradicating the disease.”
1st May, 2014