Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is appealing to countries and donors to eradicate guinea worm disease from the world once and for all. The U.K. pledged $31 million over four years for the effort and has called upon other countries to match them.
Stephen O'Brien, international development minister, pledged on Wednesday the UK government would provide up to one-third of the funding needed for the campaign against the guinea worm. But the amount of the British donation is dependent on how much is put in by others – the Department for International Development will put in £1 for every £2 from elsewhere, he said. O'Brien added that discussions were taking place with other donors, but that it would be premature to reveal their identities. “I very much hope they will produce a response to the challenge,” he said.
Carter wrote in a statement, “[Guinea worm disease] prevents people from escaping poverty… I welcome the challenge laid down by the British government. I call on other donors to match their efforts.”
The disease is endemic in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali, and Chad. The Carter Center and partners, including the World Health Organization and the CDC, aim to get rid of guinea worm disease by 2015. The global eradication effort started in 1980, when there were about 3.5 million cases of the disease, every year. Since then, cases have dropped by more than 99 percent - except in those four countries, where there were 1,797 cases last year.
Guinea worm disease is a crippling and painful parasitic disease that's spread by drinking water that harbors Guinea worm larvae. Once drunk, larvae penetrates the digestive track and grows over the next 10 to 14 months. After that a painful blister forms on the feet or legs. This is the worm - which by this point can measure two to three feet - trying to burrow its way out. The process can take months, and often leaves the patient bedridden. Removing the parasite usually involves winding the worm around a stick so it doesn't break.
Guinea worm disease can't be cured, but Carter and his cohorts want to eliminate the disease by stopping people from drinking dirty water and by preventing infected people from wading into water and spreading the disease. Relief efforts will focus on educating inhabitants of these regions, as well as distributing water filter tubes they can drink water through to prevent ingesting the parasite.