Unicef led a campaign between 1950 and 1970 to control Yaws and was largely successful as the disease was decreased by 95% by 1970. Due to the success of the program many communities integrated or dismantled the efforts all together and the disease became forgotton in most political arenas as other more pressing health concerns emerged.
The disease quickly started to regain foothold and in 1978 the World Health Assembly Resolution WHA 31.58 became effective in an attempt to renew control efforts over the disease. These attempts failed due to lack of political backing or resources. As of 1995 there still were no global efforts to control Yaws.
What is Yaws
Yaws is a disease that attacks the bone, cartilage and skin and occurs in poor communities where the weather is hot, humid and well…. tropical. Places where Yaws is seen are Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Yaws is caused by a bacterium called Treponema pertenue. It is a subspecies of the bacterium that causes syphilis.
Yaws is a non-venereal infection unlike syphilis. Most of the victims of Yaws are children younger than age 15. Yaws is contagious through direct skin contact with an infected person.
There is a single skin lesion that appears where the bacterium entered the skin. Individuals with poor hygiene are susceptible to the bacterium that causes Yaws. Overcrowding, poor sanitation and poor hygiene all contribute to the spread of the disease.
Yaws is usually not fatal though it does cause disfigurement and disability, which can lead to economic distress for the community as disabled individuals rarely can work to generate needed income, which further exacerbates the impoverishment of the community.
The treatment for Yaws is not expensive and is a single dose of an antibiotic called: Benzathine Penicillin. The antibiotic is given by injection and cures the disease completely. Any individual allergic to penicillin can be treated using erythromycin, doxycycline or tetracycline,
Experts believe that it is possible to get rid of Yaws globally because the disease only occurs in humans, is basically localized and the treatment is inexpensive and in a single-dose long acting medium and also it is relatively easy to diagnose the disease. Health staff can be trained rather quickly and there is a history that the disease can be eliminated, case in point is India.
The disease is still present or at least reported in South-East Asia, Indonesia and Timor with some presence in sub-Saharan Africa and the Western Pacific region, Ghana and Papua New Guinea. There may be unreported cases in other countries.
If the disease is not treated within five years of contracting it gross disfigurement of bone and skin which will result in disability. Usual deformities are to the legs, nose, oral palate and to the upper jaw.
Currently Yaws cannot be prevented by vaccine, as none exists. The best way to prevent the spread of Yaws is to diagnose and treat those who have it as quickly as possible.
Photo: European doctor treats an Indonesian woman for yaws. By Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures.