Guinea: £50 million to wipe out deadly tropical diseases

Guinea worm could be wiped out in developing countries within the next five years, thanks to a new £10 million funding boost to tackle tropical diseases, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander announced today.

Poor people living in rural areas in developing countries get Guinea worm from drinking dirty water containing tiny water fleas infected with the disease. Their skin swells and becomes infected as the worm, sometimes three feet long, painfully emerges through their flesh. A Guinea worm can take anything from a few weeks to a year to come through a person's blistered skin, usually on their arms, legs or stomach.

As part of an international effort to eradicate Guinea worm, the Department for International Development's (DFID) funding will help people in the five remaining countries in Africa that still have Guinea worm - South Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, and Mali. These countries will benefit from more health workers, water filters and safe water supplies to ensure they have access to clean water and learn how to avoid getting the disease.

This is part of an overall £50 million commitment that DFID is providing to tackle parasitic and bacterial tropical diseases like river blindness, disabling elephantiasis, blinding trachoma and bilharzia, an infection that can result in death.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said:

"Building upon President Bush's announcement in March of $350 million and the G8 call in Japan, the UK is supporting the US President's efforts to control or eliminate several tropical diseases with a £50 million funding boost.

"Around one billion people suffer from one or more painful, debilitating tropical diseases. Thirty years ago, scientific breakthroughs led to doctors eradicating smallpox by developing a vaccine. We don't need drugs to eradicate Guinea worm. The solution is simple. Protect water supplies from contamination by identifying and containing cases and in just five years, Guinea worm could be eradicated.

"Our £50 million over the next five years, together with our work with global partners, means we can realistically hope to eradicate Guinea worm as well as other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). Without safe water and sanitation people in developing countries won't be able to continue trying to meet the UN's Millennium Development Goals, by fighting poverty, tackling climate change or improving their health and education."

Professor David Molyneux, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said:

"Guinea worm is just one of the NTDs that together are a greater burden on the poorest in developing countries, than malaria or TB. This funding will help towards alleviating the suffering of the poor through simple solutions, ensuring people can drink clean water and receive highly effective cheap or donated drugs. These are some of the most effective ways to reduce infection, save lives and enable some of the bottom billion people to be more productive."

Please visit external link to see a diagram of how Guinea worms attack the human body.

Case studies, further diagrams and photographs of people infected with guinea worm are available to the media from the DFID press office on 020 7023 0600, or email:

Notes to editors

10 things you didn't know about Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and how your taxes are helping to tackle them:

1. NTDs is a term used for a number of different parasitic and bacterial infections such as lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), onchocerciasis (river blindness), schistosomiasis (bilharzia), dracunculiasis (Guinea worm), trachoma and intestinal worms.

2. NTDs are largely non existent in the developed world but affect poor people in rural or conflict areas. They are the cause of disability, disfigurement and stigma and are the result of half a million deaths every year worldwide

3. Bilharzia infects 200 million people and results in 200,000 deaths a year.

4. Over the past 20 years, cases of Guinea worm have been reduced by over 99%. In 1986, there were 3.5 million cases of people being infected by Guinea worm in 20 countries in Africa and Asia. Today there are fewer than 10,000 cases in five African countries

5. Over 120 million people are infected with Elephantiasis, with 40 million seriously incapacitated or disfigured. It is considered the second most disabling disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO). By working with partners and countries, since 2000, DFID funding is, resulting in nearly 2 billion treatments being given to people in 48 countries and is on track for global elimination by 2020.

6. DFID contributions with other donors to a programme to tackle River Blindness has protected 92 million people and prevented 37 million infected people from developing blindness or skin disease. It is expected to be eliminated in Africa by 2015.

7. The UK provides £6.5 million for the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDI) a research programme to develop new drugs for visceral leishmaniasis, human African trypanosomiasis, and Chagas disease

8. The UK has great expertise in tackling NTDs, particularly at Imperial College, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, whose medical and scientific experts work with WHO and endemic countries to combat the problems.

9. The UK is leading global efforts to make aid work harder for poor people. We are working with other donors to ensure co-ordinated action to make aid effective - better aid through more transparency; more accountability to developing countries and their citizens and providing more long term predictable aid to help countries fund the health and education services that are so vital for poor people.

10. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is hosting an historic summit at the UN in New York on 25 September. For the first time ever, governments, businesses, NGOs, faith groups and civil society from across the world will come together to galvanise action to tackle the global development emergency.