"The global cases of Guinea worm disease have plunged to another new all-time low, former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday, bringing health workers closer to their goal of eradicating the disease," the Canadian Press reports (Bluestein, 2/17).
"In 2010, fewer than 1,800 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported, 94 percent of which remain in Southern Sudan, with a handful of cases found in eastern Mali and western Ethiopia," according to a press release from the Carter Center. "Ghana likely has reported its last case and is expected to make a formal announcement later this year," the press release states (2/17).
"There were around 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm in 20 countries in Africa and Asia in 1986 when the former president organized a global effort to eradicate the disease," Reuters writes. The disease is transmitted when people consume water contaminated with the worm larvae. Although Guinea worm disease is rarely lethal it can lead to months of fevers, blisters and severe pain when the parasite emerges through the skin (Bigg, 2/18).
"There is no vaccine or medicine for the parasite. Infection is prevented by filtering water and educating people how to avoid the disease," the Canadian Press continues. "The Carter Center has worked to stem the spread of Guinea worm in part by handing out millions of pipe filters and educating residents about the dangers of drinking tainted water. The ex-president has also has used his political bully pulpit to encourage local politicians to devote time and resources to fighting the disease," the news service adds.
During a ceremony marking Nigeria's and Niger's successes in halting the spread of the disease, Carter, who was joined by former Nigerian President Yakubu Gowon, highlighted the value of education and leadership in fighting the disease. "We have a few more years until we can eradicate this from the face of the Earth," Carter added (2/17).
"At the beginning of the campaign, Nigeria was the most endemic country, reporting over 650,000 cases in all 36 states in its first nationwide survey for the disease," according to the press release. "However, through persistence, leadership …, and Nigeria's contribution of U.S. $2 million of its own funding to The Carter Center for the campaign, Nigeria reported its last case in a 58-year-old woman in southeastern Nigeria in November 2008," the release states (2/17).
"Carter warned that regional instability can delay efforts to eradicate the disease. He said violence could hamper efforts by the more than 10,000 volunteers fighting the disease," the Canadian Press writes.
"The last cases of any disease are the most challenging to wipe out, especially when stability is threatened in the endemic communities of Southern Sudan and Mali," said Donald Hopkins, the centre's vice-president of health programs. "But we know that with the international community's support, eradication of Guinea worm disease is not a question of if - but when," he added (2/17).
Reuters, comparing the Guinea worm eradication campaign with the campaign to rid the world of the smallpox virus in 1979, adds, "[O]ne unusual feature of the Guinea worm campaign was that it was led not by a government or a United Nations body but by a non-governmental organization" (2/18).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.