Parasitic Worms in Africa & the War on Worms

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1 billion people (mostly African), have been drafted in as foot soldiers in the fight against parasitic worms. Their number are drawn largely from poverty stricken rural communities.

This billion-strong army wasn’t assembled by constitutional order, nor was its existence decreed by royal charter.

Just eight (little-known) types of parasitic worm are responsible for this tropical recruitment rampage.

Worm infestations have not only taken 1 billion hostage, they have left fallen millions strewn across battlefields, unable to continue fighting some of the worst afflictions known to man.

“Neglected People” or “Neglected Diseases”

The World Health Organisation (WHO), diplomatic to the extreme, uses “Neglected Tropical Diseases” to define the struggle against 17 diseases, within whose number our eight (8) species of parasitic worm are counted.

However it is people that are neglected, people living in poverty that are neglected, not disease per se.

Emissaries choose their words with care, so labelling the disease and not the person, neglected, will undoubtedly save the blushes of political elites right across the developing world?

The Eight (8) Parasitic Worm Diseases

The eight parasitic worms that have (in an unabated manner), wormed their way onto the (World Health Organisation) WHO’s roster of 17 Neglected Tropical Diseases. are tabled below.

# The Diseases Parasitic Worm Infection Summary # of people infected
01 Adult Tapeworms Undercooked meat introduces tapeworms. 25 million 2010 (WHO Report)
02 Dog Tapeworm Worms from dog faeces contaminated food. 1 million (WHO estimates)
03 Food Flatworms Flatworms from eating infected ruminants. 40 million 1995 (WHO Study)
04 Elephantiasis Worm from mosquito causes huge swelling. 140 million 1997 (M E, Bundy)
05 River Blindness Blackfly posts the sight attacking roundworm. 42 million 2005 (Oncho. Control)
06 Bilharzia Eggs to faeces to freshwater snails & back. 207 million 2006 (Steinmann P)
07 Unholy Trinity Eggs in faeces go to soil then re-infect. 300 million 2003 (WHO Report)
08 Guinea Worm Worm burrows out releasing 1 million eggs. 3.5 million 1986 (WHO Report)

Note that we sourced approximate figures for the number that contracted and were living with the illness on or around the date shown.

You can find more in-depth information on parasitic worm diseases by clicking here. The life-cycles of the eight parasitic worm species are broken down, including information on the arthropods (insects aka vectors) that play a part in the transmission (and hosting) these worms.

You can also find the register of 17 Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) including the 8 parasitic worm afflictions at the World Health Organisation NTD Home.

Guinea Worm Disease

Guinea worm disease is a beacon extolling the virtues of what the human race can collectively achieve.

Guinea worm is poised to become the first parasitic worm to be eradicated from the face of the earth. It would become only the second pathogen, after smallpox, to be banished into a laboratory existence. But we are not yet there!

The number of reported new cases for Guinea Worm Disease (GWD) is now set in the thousands, as opposed to millions. It is only prevalent in 4 countries, all of which are in Africa. 96% of all new cases are registered in South Sudan.

It is no small wonder then, that GWD is the poster child for the WHO’s declared goal of eradicating 17 neglected tropical diseases.

War On Worms Rages in Africa

Despite half the world’s population, that’s 3.5 billion people, playing host to at least one colony of worms, the west (including many other developing nations), have moved on from worms.

Africa stands out & alone as a congregation of nations that has not moved on from worms.

Many of its poor suffer intensely harrowing, “worm related” afflictions. The social stigma and misinformation that go with the territory of parasitic worms, heaps ever increasing helpings of misery, onto a plate full to overflowing with hardship.

The “War On Worms” spearheaded by the World Health Organisation, is a commitment to eradicate eight deadly species of parasitic worm.

These worm infestations were amongst a larger group of diseases all tabled for eradication as part of an umbrella movement to “make poverty history”. The aptly named “War on Worms” was underway. And not a minute too soon!

Can We Do More – To Win the War

Africa is the primary theatre in the war against the diseases brought on by parasitic worms. There is emerging evidence that some worm infestations make killers like HIV/AIDS and Ebola even more deadly. Either way, an infestation of the eight parasitic worms is always a life changer, often a life ender.

With this in mind, should governments, institutions, leaders local and national, be doing more to lift their populations out of the traps of deadly diseases that are part and parcel of an impoverished existence?

The war on worms is a war ultimately about people, and their well-being.

To be informed that 1 billion of our human brothers and sisters are neglected, cannot come across as anything other than shocking. The words on this page thereby go towards raising the public awareness and consciousness, of parasitic worm afflictions. And not just in Africa, not just in the developing world, but also within western societies.

Parasitic Worms Eradication

We are seeing that the World Health Organisation is playing a significant role (and should be congratulated for it), in reducing instances of Guinea Worm Disease.

Africans will note that by itself, one success does not “change the price of sugar”. Certainly not at the war on worms frontline. Deadlines for the eradication of seven other parasitic worm diseases, have come, and just as quickly, have gone again.

Dead children, shattered lives & torn communities, accompany a culture of missing deadlines. It is for this precise reason, that we must double back, retrace our steps, search out & try anything, that has the potential to help win the war on worms.

References – Parasitic Worms & 1 Billion Neglected People

  1. World Health Organisation
    WHO Neglected Diseases
  2. World Health Organisation Working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases First WHO report on neglected tropical diseases

    Edited by Professor David W.T. Crompton, assisted by Mrs Patricia Peters.

  3. Echinococcosis (Hydatid’s Disease)
    WHO Neglected Diseases
  4. Adult Tapeworms (Taeniasis) & Cysticercosis & Neurocysticercosis
    WHO Neglected Diseases
  5. Elephantiasis (Filariasis) – Nematode Worms
    Michael E, Bundy DAP. Global mapping of lymphatic filariasis. Parasitology Today, 1997
  6. River Blindness (Onchocerciasis from Roundworms)/Onchocerca Volvulus (Roundworms)
    2005 (African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control)
  7. Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) from Parasitic Blood Fluke Worms
    2006, Steinmann P et al. Schistosomiasis. Estimates of people at risk. Lancet Infectious Diseases,2006
  8. Tabular listing of the eight parasitic worm diseases and their transmission to humans.

    How Parasitic Worms Affect Humans

  9. Helminth Soil Transmitted Worm Infections “Unholy Trinity” of Helminth Diseases (Roundworm, Whipworm, Hookworm)

    WHO Report (adapted from de Silva)

  10. Cover Image Credit – Lafforgue, E (2010) African Girl [Photograph] – ISBN 978 92 4 1564090 World Health Organisation

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