Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 13 - Neglected Tropical Diseases

This week so far has been characterized by many visitors to the factory and the house.  Chris Schultz, an engineering consultant by day and passionate pursuer of water solutions for developing countries by vacations, arrived on Sunday to spend a week helping out.  Mary Kay and Charlie Jackson arrived yesterday (Wednesday) morning to conduct some business in Tamale as well as do site related work.  Wednesday night all 13 of us were graciously invited over for dinner at our neighbor’s house.  They are an Indian family who emigrated from their home country to Tamale nearly 20 years ago.  What is surreal about their house is that it smells like an Indian household (with aromas of far east spices streaming from the kitchen) even though it is in the middle of Ghana.  The daughter, Bhavne, is very gregarious and outgoing becoming a friend to us all.  And tonight Jim, who works for the Carter Institute to Eradicate Guiana Worms, was a dinner guest.  Since 2006, Jim has been the country coordinator for the effort funded by former President Carter’s foundation to rid Ghana of this water transmitted parasite.  Guiana Worms is a disgusting worm that is ingested by humans by drinking contaminated water.  Once inside of you, the worm grows for approximately a year before painfully exiting your body through any part, except your skill.  It takes several agonizing days for the worm to slowly inch out of your body.  According to what I understand, what draws the worm out is water.  The worm exits your body and enters the water source depositing larva.  The parasite propagates contaminating the water source and any future drinkers of the water.

This medical monstrosity is one of several infections that falls under the umbrella category of neglected tropical diseases.  Like the name suggests, these diseases are found in tropical climates (such as Ghana) and have gone historically untreated.  In many cases treatments exist; however, for one reason or another (lack of funding, difficulty in disseminating it to rural areas, etc) has not been used widespread enough to eradicate it.  While some of these diseases in particular are very difficult to rid the world of because they have many ways of transmitting, Guiana Worm luckily is not.  Guiana Worm can only be transmitted through contaminated water.  Because of this important fact in the crusade against the disease, clean water sources are critical.  It is using this fact and a persistent multi-facet approach that Jim has been able to deliver impressive results in Guiana Worm eradication.  In particular, Jim has had great success by working closely with international aid organizations that specialize in water sanitation projects to get funding towards villages at high risk for the disease.  

Before Jim came to the country in 2006, cases per year in Ghana had been stagnant at about 4,000 per year.  With no real change in funding, he has focused the Carter Institute’s efforts on going from the defensive to more aggressive offensive tactics in eradicating the disease.  His approach so far has set a new record for the reduction of cases with the last case (fingers cross it will stay this way) having bee reported in May of 2010.  Jim’s experience and story reminded me of the importance of innovation and creativity in solving any problem, particularly a persistent one.


  1. Hi Zac, Again, I am reminded of how fortunate I am. You are giving back in a way so few do. You must be beat at the end of each day, but also feel great about what you have accomplished.

    Be safe and be happy,
    Love, Auntie Karen

  2. Honey...don't you just love Jimmy Carter?! I know of few people who have done more for the world than Jimmy Carter! I hope he lives to be 150! And he just might. He is so spry and alert. Apparently being involved in caring for others and changing the world, is a remedy for the downside of old age! Love you proud of you too! and thanks for sharing this all with us.