Battling the worm

The government of African country Mali has stepped up efforts to eradicate guinea worm (Dracunculus medinensis) from the country. It appears that Niagassadiou, a village in the Mopti region of south central Mali, is the source of the infection that has spread all over west Africa. When these villagers migrate to neighbouring areas in search of work during harvest season, they pass on the infection.

In 2003, 11 cases of guinea worm in Burkina Faso and four in other parts of Mali were traced back to Niagassadiou. The government has been working since 1994 to eradicate the disease and has managed to reduce the number of cases from 5,581 to just 290 by 2000. However, the contagion resurfaced in 2003, raising the number of cases to 829.

The guinea worm is transmitted through water. Humans get infected when they drink standing water containing a tiny water flea infected with larvae of the worm. The worm grows under the human skin. It has to be slowly pulled out of the infected person's body. Sometimes it dies under the skin causing fatal allergic reactions.