Namibia under guinea-worm surveillance

28 February 2019 | Health

The Omusati Region is under surveillance by the World Health Organisation (WHO) following two confirmed human cases of dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease) in the Angolan province of Cunene, which borders Namibia.

The WHO reported that an eight-year-old girl from Cunene Province in Angola was the first to test positive for the disease.

The case was detected during a national measles immunisation campaign in June last year. A specimen was sent to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, where it was confirmed to be guinea worm. It was the first confirmed case of human guinea-worm infection in Angola in many years. This was announced by a WHO technical advisor, Dr Joe Nakinpak Bariki-Laar, at Outapi on Monday.

Bariki-Laar said after the case was confirmed in Angola, the WHO sent a team to Namibia to investigate whether there were any cases here. Guinea-worm disease is a crippling parasitic disease caused by Dracunculus medinensis - a long, thread-like worm. It is transmitted exclusively when people drink stagnant water contaminated with parasite-infected water fleas.

Dracunculiasis is rarely fatal, but infected people become non-functional for weeks. It affects people in rural, deprived and isolated communities who depend mainly on open surface-water sources such as ponds for drinking water.

“The worm... is very common in poor communities who have no access to clean drinking water,” Bariki-Laar said.

“Once the worm enters your body it takes up to a year before it attacks your body tissues. We are therefore urging people who do not have clean drinking water to boil their water before drinking it.”

The regional health director for Omusati, Alfons Amoomo, confirmed that the WHO representatives were authorised by the government to conduct the investigation.

He said Namibia had no reported cases of guinea-worm disease, but since people in Omusati regularly interacted with Angolans from Cunene, vigilance was necessary.

“No guinea-worm cases have been confirmed in Namibia but there have been some cases reported in Angola. Angolans are our family and they come to use our facilities in Namibia. The WHO is here to assess whether we have any cases that we have missed,” Amoomo said.

He appealed to people to cooperate with the investigators.

“These people will be operating in local communities and they need assistance from communities to obtain the information they need to determine whether we have the guinea-worm disease or not,” he said.

ILENI NANDJATO