Fighting Disease: Benin
Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease
In 1993, Benin reported approximately 14,000 cases of Guinea worm, and The Carter Center assisted the Ministry of Health in establishing a national program to eradicate the disease. By 2004, only three indigenous cases were reported.
Guinea worm prevention approaches introduced in local communities included: health education; distribution of nylon filters to sieve out tiny water fleas carrying infective larvae; treatments of stagnant ponds with safe, monthly ABATE® larvicide treatments (donated by BASF); direct advocacy with water organizations; and increased efforts to build safer hand-dug wells.
Village volunteers, who were trained, supplied, and supervised by the program, carried out daily surveillance and interventions.
Benin greatly improved its Guinea worm surveillance by fully implementing strategies to contain cases within 24 hours of case detection. To help educate the public and raise awareness about Guinea worm, The Carter Center facilitated the recording of Guinea worm radio public service announcements in French, the official language of Benin. Listen to Guinea worm public service announcements >
In communities throughout the country, women were enlisted in the fight against Guinea worm disease. Directly responsible for obtaining water for household use, the women noticed if people with Guinea worm disease entered water sources to bathe or collect water and were able to quickly spot and report outbreaks.
The program recruited three university-trained women who were assigned to monitor outbreaks in one of three highly endemic regions: Mono, Zou, and Collines. These women, called social assistants, were the first of a future network of women in Benin's most endemic communities. Each social assistant began by training other women to search for cases of Guinea worm, log cases in the village register, and apply bandages to wounds caused by emerging worms.
The women also were taught to care for and distribute water filters, verify that ponds were treated monthly with ABATE, and encourage use of potable water, when available. Making rounds twice a month, the women visited at least 25 households each and recommended and selected other women for training. Learn more about mothers fighting Guinea worm disease in Benin (Carter Center News, PDF, July - December 2002, p. 9) >
With support from her fellow villagers in Tchetti, one social assistant rallied against a negligent village volunteer when he refused to report an outbreak of Guinea worm disease because he did not want to be embarrassed. The women went to the local radio station, which routinely aired messages about preventing Guinea worm disease, announced the outbreak, and denounced the irresponsible behavior of the village volunteer. Her intervention allowed the eradication program to take action immediately to contain the outbreak.
Between 2003 and 2004, the national program reported a 90 percent decrease in recorded cases of Guinea worm.
In April of 2005, Benin officially reported 13 consecutive months of zero indigenous cases, demonstrating that transmission of the disease had been stopped.
Benin was honored at a special ceremony at The Carter Center in Atlanta in 2006 for having stopped Guinea worm disease transmission. Read more about the special ceremony >
Working with the Benin Ministry of Agriculture, the Carter Center's Agriculture Program assisted farmers in Benin with agricultural production from 1989-1996. The program, in partnership with the Sasakawa Africa Association and led by the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug, was part of a larger joint initiative that helped more than 8 million small-scale, sub-Saharan farmers double or triple crop yields in countries where malnutrition was a constant threat.
The program in Benin assisted 100,000 families to adopt green manure crops, such as velvet bean, quality protein maize, and rice. Improved seeds, paired with the use of new farming technologies, helped farmers enhance soil fertility and control noxious weeds, thus increasing crop yield. The program then aided farmers in identifying local markets to sell their surplus harvests. Most farmers were able to save enough money from these earnings to diversify their holdings by purchasing livestock or different types of seeds.
Yet obstacles remained, including the physical distance to the nearest bank. Consequently, The Carter Center Agriculture Program, in conjunction with the Ministry of Rural Development, assisted farmers to develop village-based savings and loan banks, which brought together farmers, small traders, artisans, and cattle owners to contribute resources and create their own savings and loan association.
Benin's success with the savings and loan banks inspired other nations, including Burkina Faso, Togo, and Mali, to adopt similar programs.
Achievements like these led The Carter Center and the Sasakawa Africa Association to end its in-country agricultural activities in Benin in 1999.
Carter Center Photo: Deborah Hakes
His Excellency Ambassador Segbe Cyrille Oguin of Benin accepts the Carter Center Award for Guinea Worm Disease Eradication on behalf of his country. Benin's Guinea Worm Eradication Program stopped disease transmission in its last known endemic village in March of 2004.