UK helps fund drive to wipe out parasitic disease
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said Wednesday it would help fund a drive to wipe out a debilitating parasitic disease that once afflicted millions of people in developing countries.
Britain said it was ready to give 20 million pounds over four years to support a global campaign to combat Guinea worm, but wants other donors to come forward with additional funding.
The Carter Centre, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, has led a drive to consign Guinea worm to the history books alongside smallpox.
There were around 3.5 million cases of the water-borne infection in 21 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986 when The Carter Centre organised a global effort to eradicate the disease.
Since then the disease has been reduced by more than 99 percent. There were 1,797 cases worldwide in 2010, all of them in Africa.
The disease has been eliminated in Nigeria, Niger and Ghana in the last two years but cases remain in South Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali, as well as an isolated outbreak in Chad.
"Britain is ready to help fund the final push to eradicate this debilitating disease and we now need others to join us in taking this historic opportunity to rid the world of Guinea worm," said British International Development Minister Stephen O'Brien.
The disease is usually not fatal but causes agonising pain and leaves people bedridden for months.
There is no known cure or vaccine and so Britain's support through the Carter Centre will focus on teaching people how to avoid the disease.
British funding will also pay for the distribution of filters for drinking water and ensure villages have enough supplies of larvicide to kill the worm in the early stages of infection.
Carter and World Health Organisation Director-General Margaret Chan will host a news conference in London Wednesday about the British announcement.
Overseas aid is one of the few areas of public spending set to rise under Britain's deficit-cutting coalition government.
The government is facing increasing questioning of its decision to increase aid at a time when many welfare benefits and public services in Britain are being cut.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Andrew Roche)
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