Former U.S. President, Noble Peace Prize winner and member of The Elders, Jimmy Carter, recently announced he was diagnosed with cancer. We wish him well. During his press conference announcing his diagnosis, he made the following comment when asked about his remaining priorities for the Carter Center:
“I would like to see Guinea worm completely eradicated before I die – I would like the last Guinea worm to die before I do.”
Guinea worm is set to become the second human disease to be eradicated, after smallpox. We are so close to eradication that an expert commission advised WHO to prepare a plan for implementing a global reward as soon as transmission is interrupted, as was done with smallpox! Further, in May 2015, health ministers in affected countries reiterated their commitment to interrupting transmission of the disease by the end of 2015.
Guinea worm disease is a neglected tropical disease caused by drinking water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. There are no medicines to treat Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, and instead classic public health techniques of providing clean water sources – through the use of filters – and community health education are used to interrupt transmission streams.
WHO received reports of 12 cases of Guinea worm disease from January until July 2015. This is over a 75% decrease in cases from the prior year (52 to 12). When The Carter Center began its eradication efforts in 1986, Guinea worm disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people. Currently, the disease is endemic in 4 countries: Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and South Sudan. 186 WHO Member States are certified free of Guinea worm disease. WHO’s Director General most recently certified Ghana as free of transmission of Guinea worm. However, similar to current challenges in the effort to eradicate polio, insecurity and inaccessibility due to conflicts pose major challenges to eradication of Guinea worm.
Similar to “getting to zero” for Ebola cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, community engagement is critical for successful eradication. We wish former President Carter well with regards to his health challenges and we wish The Carter Center, its partners, and the remaining communities in Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and South Sudan great success with eliminating the very last Guinea worm! Public health FTW!