16th May 2000
THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATIONANNOUNCES NEW GLOBAL HEALTH GRANT TO ACCELERATE THE CAMPAIGN TO
ERADICATE GUINEA WORM DISEASE
WHO to Receive $5 Million to Support Certification of Elimination
GENEVA-At the 53rd World Health Assembly (the highest governing body meeting of the World Health Organization) currently taking place here, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a global health grant of $28.5 million to accelerate the eradication of Guinea worm disease, a painful and debilitating disease caused by an infection from contaminated drinking water. The grant will go to several organizations that are leading the eradication effort.
"This grant will help accelerate the incredible effort of four organizations that are winning the war on Guinea worm," said Bill Foege, Senior Health Advisor to the Global Health Program at the Foundation. "Guinea worm disease can be defeated, and I look forward to the day when the last case is certified."
"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation once again has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to improving health in the developing world," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Chairman of the non-profit Carter Center. "This grant will go a long way toward the final assault on Guinea worm disease, which has caused immense suffering among millions of people for thousands of years. I am extremely grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and look forward to working with our partner organizations and with the governments of endemic countries, who must remain committed to making this disease just a painful memory."
The campaign to eradicate dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease) has been spearheaded by the Global 2000 Program of The Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in close collaboration with WHO and UNICEF. This "Grand Coalition" also includes the World Bank, numerous bilateral and multilateral assistance agencies, private corporations, and foundations, all in support of village-based volunteer health workers.
The campaign has already reduced the number of reported cases of the disease by 97 percent, from an estimated 3.2 million in 1986 to less than 100,000 cases in 1999.
The number of affected countries has also been reduced from 20 to 13. Asia is now completely free of the parasite. The remaining endemic countries, all in Sub-Saharan Africa, are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Togo and Uganda.
People become infected when they drink water contaminated with tiny water fleas carrying Guinea worm larvae. Inside the body, the larvae mature and grow to as long as three feet. After about a year, the threadlike worm emerges slowly through a painful blister in the skin, most commonly on the foot. Many victims immerse the affected area in water to soothe the pain, causing the female worm to release more larvae and beginning the cycle again. Although Guinea worm disease cannot be cured, it can be prevented by teaching infected persons not to contaminate drinking water sources, by straining drinking water through a cloth filter, treating ponds with a chemical that kills the larvae, or providing water wells.
The $28.5 million grant will be channeled through the World Bank Trust Fund established to support this comprehensive eradication campaign. The designated recipients follow:
The Carter Center - $15 million
The World Bank - $8.5 million
The World Health Organization - $5 million
UNICEF – To be determined
UNICEF (www.unicef.org) will have primary responsibility among the external partners for helping all national programs to bring the water supply sector to bear in endemic villages as quickly and effectively as possible. This includes helping programs to coordinate provision of new water supplies and rehabilitation of existing ones by all parties in endemic communities. Priority will be given to the highest endemic countries, especially Nigeria and Ghana. UNICEF will continue to support health education and social mobilization activities in all endemic countries.
For further information please contact Gregory Hartl, WHO Press Spokesperson, Geneva. Tel (+41 22) 791 4458, Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int