Kenya has become the latest Guinea Worm free country in the world after the WHO director- general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus accepted recommendations made by the International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis Eradication (ICCDE).
Dr Ghebreyesus signed the recommendations and declaration February 20, making Kenya the 199th country to be certified guinea worm free. The eradication of guinea worm makes it the second human disease to be eradicated in Kenya after smallpox.
The last country to be declared free of GW disease was Ghana in 2015. Since its establishment in 1995 until April 2016, the ICCDE has met 11 times and certified 198 countries, territories and areas (belonging to 186 Member States) as free of dracunculiasis.
The declaration follows comprehensive evaluation done in December by the International Certification Team, ICT, which visited 21 counties including the three former endemic ones, namely, Turkana, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot. The team visited 88 health facilities, 159 communities and interviewed 1691 individuals. The team assessed the adequacy of the surveillance system, and reviewed records of any investigations for rumoured cases and subsequent actions taken and evaluated knowledge of the disease countrywide and in former endemic counties.
“This is a major public health milestone for the country in that GW is certified as being no longer a disease burden for the country. While Guinea Worm surveillance has to continue until all countries of the world are declared Guinea Worm free, the resources should be increasingly directed to other diseases or health concerns,” WHO Country Representative Dr Rudi Eggers said.
Kenyans may feel safer from GW knowing that this disease has been eradicated from the country although health teams have to sustain this status through close surveillance, especially along the borders.
Surveillance will sustain the alertness of the health system and detect any importation of GW from neighbouring countries that are still endemic, such as Ethiopia which is reporting a Guinea Worm outbreak and South Sudan which is still endemic.
The ICT mission was initiated and facilitated by WHO and was led by the ICT Chair Dr Joel Breman. It had been convened in response to an official request by the country last August for assessment towards Guinea Worm certification. Kenya had interrupted indigenous GW transmission in 1994 after the last GW case was contained. Several imported cases from South Sudan up to 2005 were also contained.
A country is declared free of GW after it has interrupted transmission and reported zero indigenous cases over a period of three calendar years after the last reported case. The country should also have demonstrated a robust surveillance system for that period of time and improved awareness of the disease.