Elimination of Guinea Worm Disease in Ethiopia; Current Status of the Disease's, Eradication Strategies and Challenges to the End Game
Dracunculiasis, also named Guinea Worm Disease (GWD), is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) caused by a parasitic nematode known as Dracunculus medinensis and has been known since antiquity as 'fiery serpent' from Israelites. It is transmitted to humans via drinking contaminated water containing infective copepods. Given, its feasibility for eradication, the Guinea Worm Eradication Program (GWEP) was launched in 1980 with the aim of eradicating the disease. Since its inception, GWEP has made an extraordinary progress in interrupting transmission. Globally, the number of reported cases reduced from 3.5 million in 20 countries in 1986 to only 22 cases in 2015 from only four countries namely South Sudan, Mali, Chad and Ethiopia. Since Mali has interrupted transmission of GWD in 2016, currently, the disease remains endemic in only three sub-Saharan African countries namely, South Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia. Each endemic country has its own national Guinea Worm Eradication Program. In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Dracunculiasis Eradication Program (EDEP) which was established in 1993 has made remarkable move towards interruption of disease transmission and now the endgame is fast approaching. The EDEP with support mainly from The Carter Center, WHO, and UNICEF has reduced GWD by more than 99% from 1994 to 2015. In 2015, only 3 indigenous cases in humans and 14 in animals (13 in dogs and 1 in baboon) were reported. In 2016, 3 human cases, 14 dogs and 2 baboon infections were reported.. Refugee influx from the Republic of South Sudan (RSS), increased animal infections with unknown role in transmission of Dracunculiasis, the presence of hard to reach communities and lack of safe water sources in remote non-village areas remain among important challenges at this final stage of GWD eradication in Ethiopia. This paper reviews progress made towards Guinea Worm Eradication with a focus on the experience of the Ethiopian Dracunculiasis Eradication Program (EDEP), and intervention strategies that need further intensification to realize the endgame. Eradication strategies encompassing community education for behavioral change including raising awareness towards cash reward for reporting Guniea Worm Disease (GWD) and animal infection, case containment, surveillance systems, provision of safe water supply, and ABATE chemical application are discussed. It also summarizes challenges the end game faces and recommendations to strengthen the eradication effort.