Because of the immense effects of the Carter Center, former President Jimmy Cater’s foundation, the Guinea worm had only 22 reported cases last year. Down from 3.5 million in 1986.
The Guinea worm was found in 21 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Eradicating this disease would make it only the second eradicated human disease, the other being smallpox.
To tackle this huge undertaking, requiring no new medical technology. They trained thousands of volunteers, educating over 23,700 communities about the parasite and distributing water filters.
About Guinea Worm
Guinea worm is non-lethal but can be very debilitating. It is spread by drinking water that contains the larvae of the worm, where they grow and develop in the abdomen. Once mature the worms mate, the male dies while the female continues to mature. After about a year, the female worms move to legs and feet where to work their way out of the body. This emergence is creates incredibly painful lesions.
These female worms can reach a full meter in length and take several months to fully emerge from the body. During this process the lesion creates a burning sensation often causing the sufferer to bathe the wound seeking relief. It is at this point that the cycle repeats, depositing larvae in a new water source. Stopping this cycle has been the key to the sharp decline of the disease and its eventual eradication.
The Carter Center’s Influence
One of the Carter Center’s main focuses is neglected tropical diseases which given the right attention could be eradicated from the world. “The Carter Center has the only international taskforce on disease eradication, We are the ones that house the group that analyzes every human illness constantly, to ascertain which ones might possibly be eliminated or eradicated.”
Always looking ahead, the Carter Center already has its sights set on its next targets for eradication. They are currently considering eight different diseases that have the potential to be eradicated, river blindness is currently the front runner.
“We began an experimental project in six countries that had river blindness in Latin America, and we’ve eliminated it in I’d say 95.5 percent of people,” said Carter.
Once they gain approval of the World Health Organization, the program could be rolled out across Africa and hopefully another preventable disease could be gone forever.
Path To Eradication
Eradicating this parasite has not been without its bumps. Civil war made operations in Sudan almost impossible for nearly 15 years. The disease also affects dogs, which in some cases required extra attention and effort that was unforeseen.
The final major hurdle has been one of politics. “Sometimes when we get the total eradication and elimination in one country, the ministers of health and presidents of those countries get excessively confident and they go onto other priorities and abandon this,” explained Carter. This is the threat that currently overhangs the present status of Guinea worm. With only a handful of cases reported last year, it is vital the pressure is kept on to ensure the total eradication of the disease.
The key is to not get too relaxed because there are so few cases. With sustained effort the disease could be completely eradicated in just a few years.