Ghanaian Reggae Artist Sings Out Against Guinea Worm Disease, Educates Concert-Goers About Prevention

Sheriff Ghale teaches child to sing

Watch Sheriff Ghale teach
"The Guinea Worm Song" >>

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"The Guinea Worm Song"

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It is dusk in northern Ghana and communities reverberate with the local mosque's call to prayer. The setting sun has fallen beyond the concrete buildings that flank the market square, casting everyone in deep purple shadow. Thousands of people are making their way to this rural outpost, the current epicenter of the country's decades-long battle to eradicate Guinea worm disease.

Word of a special performance has spread throughout the region, and men, women, and children have traveled miles from their rural communities, many by foot, to be here tonight. In the dusty market space a makeshift stage has been erected.

A small bus pulls in behind the stage and whispers thread through the growing crowd.


In 2008, Ghana reduced cases by 85 percent, the greatest single-year reduction of any moderately endemic country in the history of the campaign. Ghana's endemic villages are being encouraged to detect, contain, and report every case within 24 hours. With continued dedication and vigilance, Ghana will be rid of Guinea worm disease once and for all.

In addition to Ghana, five other countries in Africa (Sudan, Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Niger) remain endemic to Guinea worm disease, down from an original 20 endemic countries in Africa and Asia when The Carter Center spearheaded the Guinea worm eradication campaign in 1986. Cases of Guinea worm disease have been reduced by more than 99 percent from 3.5 million to fewer than 5,000 today. With long dreadlocks and a bright green shirt, Sheriff Ghale takes the stage. He looks like a typical Reggae artist, but as he begins to sing, the words of his song are unexpected.

"Filter your water to prevent Guinea worm," he sings in the Dagbani language, one of the local dialects spoken in this diverse region.

Ghale is from northern Ghana. He grew up in a community plagued with Guinea worm disease. A local school teacher by day and a musician by night, Ghale helps the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Program and The Carter Center to spread the word to permanently end the suffering caused by the disease. Sheriff is conducting his own unique type of health education.

"Health messages are most effective when they are relayed by a respected member of the community," says Andrew Seidu-Korkor, director of the Ghana Guinea Worm Eradication Program. "As a popular local musician, Ghale is an ideal messenger for Guinea worm prevention in the hard-hit northern region of the country."

Guinea worm, a water-borne parasite, debilitates otherwise hardworking people who depend on their physical strength to survive in this impoverished and neglected area. Ghana is one of the last remaining countries to harbor the disease, and has become the intense focus of the international effort to wipe the disease completely from the face of the Earth. Community health education on methods to filter drinking water and to report cases is a key component to ending transmission of the disease.

"There is the need to gather the people, especially in the rural areas, so they can listen to messages about how they can prevent Guinea worm and how they can handle cases," says Ghale. "There was a need for me to try to help the Guinea worm office by going to the communities, for me to attract the people, entertain them, and while we entertain them, we talk to them about the disease."

During the intermission, women from the Ghana Red Cross Society take the stage to demonstrate the proper ways to filter water. One by one the women pour water through a fine mesh net tied over large household water vessels, involving the audience by creating a competition among themselves to complete the task most efficiently.

When Ghale retakes the stage he calls on some young volunteers from the audience. Six children take the stage and one by one they take turns singing the chorus to the Guinea worm song: "filter your water to prevent Guinea worm." The audience laughs and cheers as some of the children struggle to recite after Ghale, while others show they are natural-born entertainers.

"One reason I do this is to get the song sung so many times. As I sing the song with the kids, the people listen to us singing the song over and over," says Ghale. "If all the people get to know what they can do to prevent Guinea worm, how they can handle their Guinea worm cases, it is the foremost power to solving the problem."

Footage courtesy: Carter Center/ Mudpuppy Productions


Learn more about the Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program

Watch Sheriff's 85th birthday message to President Carter

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