Friday, November 23, 2012

The Yaws Epidemic

As part of my Peace Corps training in Port Vila, I attended a lecture on yaws—something none of us had previously heard of, and for good reason. Vanuatu is one of only thirteen countries still affected by yaws, a bacterial infection that causes bone structure to decay and the immune system to deteriorate. Yaws is spread through blood-to-blood contact, and while it was previously thought that the epicenter was the southern island of Tanna, it has spread all throughout the archipelago. Yaws is easily remedied by a dose of intravenous antibiotics and Azithromycin, a medication that would by prescription at any pharmacy in the developed world. The fact that Vanuatu is still affected by yaws is a sign of how abysmal and defective the health care system is here. Cultural taboos and financial constraints prevent people from seeking treatment. The main sign that someone is affected by yaws is a large open wound that often attracts insects. When we saw pictures of this symptom, we all agreed that yaws is ubiquitous—we saw it all the time in our respective sites. A new campaign is being launched in Vanuatu to eradicate yaws from the country. This will not be easily achieved. However, Peace Corps Volunteers here (including volunteers who have not been assigned to work on health issues) will be included in this campaign next year. More updates to come.

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