NAIROBI, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday certified Kenya as a guinea worm-free country.
Ashok Kumar, deputy team leader of the International Certification Team, a body set up by WHO, told journalists in Nairobi that the country had not experienced a trace of the diseases in the last three years.
"We visited 44 of the 47 counties, interviewed communities, reviewed records and none recorded a trace of the disease," Kumar said.
The team that includes experts from the WHO and international consultants had been in the country for the last three weeks to evaluate Kenya's status in regard to Guinea worm. They also visited refugee camps, border areas and north Western Kenya that had the last reported case.
"We recommend that Kenya continues strengthening surveillance, communication, education and investment in the provision of safe water," Kumar said.
The team has been in the country following the East African nation's request to be evaluated and certified for a Guinea worm free status.
The team has spoken to community leaders, individuals in communities, health personnel and county government officials.
The team that is facilitated by WHO will make recommendations to the International Commission for the Certification of Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm) Eradication (ICCDE), which will in turn make the final decision on Kenya's status early next year.
Guinea worm disease is a parasitic disease that is transmitted through drinking stagnant water contaminated with a tiny parasite-infected flea.
Once inside the body, the larvae can mature into worms that grow up to one meter in length and people may develop a fever, swelling and pain in the area where the adult worm is ready to come out.
Kenya's Director of Medical Services Jackson Kioko said the ministry had developed activities toward creating awareness about the disease in 2012.
Kioko said the country will intensify cross-border surveillance and increase availability of safe water in rural regions in a bid to eliminate water-borne diseases such as cholera in the country.
"We intend to increase awareness through various community and religious forums," he added.
Kenya's first case was reported in 1994 and exotic case in 2005 in Turkana, northwestern part of the country, while the rest of the country has no experience of the disease.
Rudi Eggers, WHO Country Representative in Kenya, revealed that the findings will be forwarded to the International Committee for the ICCDE that will be meeting in February 2018 for official certification.
"In the event that Kenya will be certified, the country will have to reinforce Integrated Surveillance System and Response to ensure that any imported Guinea worm is promptly detected and contained," he added.
Eggers assured Kenya of the WHO's continued technical support in complementing government efforts in conducting surveillance.
To be declared free of Guinea worm, a country needs to have reported zero instances of transmission and maintained active surveillance for at least 3 years afterwards.
Once certified, Guinea worm will be the second human disease ever to have been declared eradicated in Kenya after smallpox and the first human parasitic disease wiped off in the country.
From 3.5 million persons infected every year worldwide in mid 1980s, the number has since reduced to 25 in 2016 and 24 people in 2017. Chad and Ethiopia reported 14 and 10 infections this year.
Statistics show 186 out of 194 WHO member countries are already certified Guinea worm free and only seven countries in the world remain to be certified.
Ghana was certified in January 2015, becoming the latest country to be certified while South Sudan, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are at the pre-certification stage.