October 22, 2001
Pipe filters may wipe out Guinea worm
Emily Howard is coordinator for health programs at the Carter Center
The Carter Center, along with its partnersHealth and Development
International (HDI), Hydro Polymers of Norsk Hydro and Norwegian Church
Aid (NCA)is blanketing Sudan with more than 9 million pipe filtersone
for every man, woman and child in the country at risk of Guinea worm disease.
The Sudan Guinea Worm Pipe Filter Project is a positive story coming
out of Africa, and unfortunately there are not enough of these,
said President Jimmy Carter. We are grateful for this opportunity
to aggressively attack Guinea worm in Sudan. We also are encouraged by
the eagerness of all interested parties to participate in the fight to
eradicate this debilitating disease.
Guinea worm disease cripples victims, leaving them unable to work, attend
school, care for children or harvest crops. Eradicating, or at the very
least reducing the incidence of Guinea worm in a country improves the
quality of life for all its people. The Carter Center leads the global
eradication effort against Guinea worm and has reduced worldwide incidence
of the disease by 98 percent, from 2.1 million cases in 1986 to fewer
than 75,000 in 2000.
The situation in Sudan represents the greatest challenge to Guinea worm
eradication: 73 percent of all reported cases are Sudanese. In 2000, the
Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program (SGWEP) reported more than 54,000
new cases of Guinea worm disease (the actual number of cases in Sudan
is unknown) from 3,386 villages. The regions with the highest incidence
of disease are in the south Sudanese territories. Since November 2000,
10 northern states have reported zero indigenous cases.
Use of pipe filters prevents individuals from consuming contaminated
water, thus interrupting disease transmission. The pipe filters are an
adaptation of the household nylon filter cloth, which is placed over jars
to strain water. Nomads came to hold a piece of cloth over the end of
a reed, while they drank through it like a straw.
An adaptation of that idea has been found to be effective in response
to circumstances in Sudan: the continued internal conflict and its adverse
effects on the population; the number of displaced and nomadic persons;
the difficulties of accessing safe drinking water and delivering household
filters to every endemic home; and the high rate of Guinea worm disease.
An effort of this magnitude would not be possible without the strong
collaboration and continued support of our partners from the community
to the international level, said Donald Hopkins, associate executive
director of the Carter Centers health programs.
The SGWEP was established through a unique collaboration, which also
made the Sudan pipe filter project possible. HDI, NCA, Hydro Polymers
and the Carter Center have joined forces with more than 39 implementing
agencies; 16 working groups, consisting of more than 1,300 people in Nairobi
and Kenya; and many supporting industries. Together these groups are working
produce, assemble and distribute the pipe filters throughout Sudan before
the rainy season begins and disease transmission peaks. More than 9.25
million pipe filters have been produced; 8.25 million of these have been
distributed in the most endemic areas of Sudan.
The massive pipe filter project has the potential to greatly reduce
the number of new cases in Sudan in 2002, Hopkins said. However,
we must remain aware that the continued conflict leaves many parts of
the country inaccessible or difficult to reach, making the prevalence
of disease and the actual number of Guinea worm cases unknown.
We believe the pipe filter project is the quickest and most effective solution at this time to eradicate Guinea worm disease in Sudan, given the constraints of the environment and the costs associated with providing clean water, said Mikkel Storm, public affairs manager for Hydro Polymers. This solution gives the Sudanese people a better quality of life without Guinea worm disease.