Global health team says Kenya is Guinea-worm free


A health worker removes a guinea worm from the leg of a patient. AFP PHOTO | FILE

Kenya is free from the Guinea-worm disease, international experts who have been assessing the country's status on the parasitic infection say.

Guinea-worm is one of the 17 neglected tropical diseases listed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The last known local case was diagnosed in Kenya in 1994 but the country could not be granted 'guinea worm free' status since it was yet to meet certain required standards.

Experts from the International Certification Team on guinea worm disease (ICT) were then invited to the country to assess local health officials' claim that there have been no new transmissions since.

"After our assessment these past three weeks, we can now comfortably declare that Kenya is free from the disease as we found no evidence of active transmission in the country," said Dr Ashok Kumar, a member of the ICT team said Monday during the launch of its findings from the assessment.

Their final report will now be presented for review to the Geneva-based International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication (ICCDE) before Kenya is officially certified as free of the disease in February next year.

Only the WHO has the mandate to certify countries as Guinea-worm free based on recommendations of the ICCDE.

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People who have the disease, scientifically known as dracunculiasis, usually present with a leg blister similar to the one that develops when a person is burned by hot water or oil.

Once it bursts, the blister creates a painful wound that reveals a whitish worm which can be seen wiggling about.

To treat the condition, health workers start by pulling the worm from the wound, a painful process that can take days, until it finally comes out.

Infection is usually via drinking water contaminated with water fleas that carry the worm's larva.


Dr Jackson Kioko, the director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) was optimistic that Kenya will get the eradication certificate.

"The declaration made today is a major achievement and good news for us. So we are hopeful that we will finally get the eradication certificate next year."

Countries yet to be declared guinea worm free include South Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, Chad, Sudan, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

To qualify for the certification, countries need to have created sufficient awareness about the disease among its citizens whilst establishing a functional surveillance system that can detect any imported cases.

The Ministry of Health did this by offering up a Sh100,000 reward to any person who reports a confirmed case, but no one claimed it.

The country also needs to have reported no guinea worm disease cases for at least three years in the pre-certification phase that Kenya has been in since 1994.

A new report gauging progress of elimination of the disease over the last five years shows that there has been a 98 per cent reduction in guinea-worm disease cases – from 1060 in 2011 down to just 26 in 2017.

Other neglected tropical diseases targeted for elimination include trachoma, leprosy, elephantiasis, intestinal worms, sleeping sickness, kala-azar, bilharzia, river blindness and Chagas disease.