NIAMEY (Reuters) - Niger is offering cash rewards to anyone reporting a case of Guinea worm as part of efforts to permanently eradicate the parasitic disease in the impoverished West African nation, the health ministry said.
Though it once afflicted around 3.5 million people annually across Asia and Africa, according to the U.S.-based Carter Center, Guinea worm disease is now on the verge of being eradicated worldwide.
Niger had been due to join the list of countries free from the disease last year before an influx of some 60,000 refugees fleeing fighting in neighboring Mali where the parasite is present.
Anyone reporting a case of Guinea worm, confirmed as such by health authorities, would be offered a reward of 20,000 CFA francs ($39.58).
"A reward of 40,000 CFA francs ($79.17) will be offered to anyone sick with Guinea worm who declares themselves to health workers within 24 hours of the worm's emergence," the health ministry said in a statement late on Monday.
Landlocked and largely desert, uranium-producing Niger is the world's least developed country according to the United Nation's Human Development Index's ranking of 185 nations.
Guinea worm disease, or dracunculiasis, is transmitted through contaminated water and causes painful skin lesions incapacitating victims and making them unable to work or attend school.
South Sudan accounted for 521, or around 96 percent, of the world's remaining cases of the disease last year, though a small number of cases were also reported in Ethiopia, Chad and Mali. ($1 = 505.2620 CFA francs)
($1 = 505.2620 CFA francs)
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by Joe Bavier)