Jimmy Carter Wants to Finish Off Guinea Worm

The former U.S. president asks for $93 million to eradicate a neglected disease that lingers in the new Republic of South Sudan.
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The former U.S. president asks for $93 million to eradicate a neglected disease that lingers in the new Republic of South Sudan.

Former President Jimmy Carter joined the World Health Organization in London today to ask governments and nongovernmental organizations for $93 million in donations over four years to rid the world of guinea worm disease, a debilitating infection that still afflicts four African countries.

In 1980, about 3.5 million people in 20 countries suffered from guinea worm disease, an affliction so painful that it can immobilize sufferers for months. According to the World Health Organization, only 970 cases of guinea worm have been confirmed from January through August this year, primarily in the world's newest nation, South Sudan, with a scattering in Ethiopia, Mali and Chad.

Now is the time to finish the job, Carter said. Britain has pledged to provide up to one-third of the needed funding over four years, depending on how much other countries contribute.

As Miller-McCune reported previously, guinea worm disease (or dracunculiasis) is on a list of 10 "neglected tropical diseases" affecting the world's "bottom billion" people. Researchers have suggested that effective prevention or treatment strategies for all 10 of these diseases could be delivered for less than $1 per capita per year.

Carter is the founder of the Carter Center, an international nonprofit based in Atlanta, Ga., and a leader in the control and eradication of neglected tropical diseases since 1986.

There is no treatment or cure for guinea worm. People ingest the larvae by drinking stagnant water that is contaminated with water fleas. Inside the body, the worms can grow to be more than a yard long. About one year after infection, a blister forms, usually on the lower leg, and the worm tries to emerge. Adults with the disease may be unable to take on household chores, forcing older children to miss school for months on end.

Successful eradication of guinea worm disease means ensuring wider access to safe drinking water supplies (such as filters for drinking water), treating ponds to kill the water fleas, and detecting every case of the disease within 24 hours after a worm emerges.

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