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Global Health Thought Leadership

We Have Guinea Worm on the Run, and We Won’t Let Up

By Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Vice President-Health Programs, The Carter Center And Adam Weiss, Director, Guinea Worm Eradication Program

You may have seen the Carter Center’s announcement on Jan. 24 that only 13 human cases of Guinea worm disease were reported globally in 2022. That was an improvement over the previous year’s total of 15 human cases. Working with our partners in the endemic countries, we are continuing to progress toward the goal of making Guinea worm  the first human disease to be eradicated since smallpox in 1980.

Not all that long ago, Guinea worm disease afflicted about 3.5 million people a year, and now it’s down to only a handful. There’s no medicine to treat it, no vaccine to prevent it. The only way to combat it is to teach every potential patient — that is, millions of people over multiple generations — how to interrupt the parasite’s life cycle and prevent it from reproducing. 

For more than 35 years, volunteers in tens of thousands of villages across Africa and Asia have stepped up to the task. Guinea worm warriors have taken the training they received from The Carter Center and their ministries of health and passed it on to their families and communities, making sure everyone knows exactly what they need to do to prevent infection. 

What they need to do is filter every drop of water that will be consumed by humans, keep animals and infected persons away from water sources, prevent cats and dogs from eating uncooked fish and other aquatic animals, and immediately report anything that might be a sign of a Guinea worm. To encourage reporting, the health ministries of endemic countries offer cash rewards. Carter Center and health ministry personnel diligently chase down hundreds of thousands of rumors every year; the rumored cases almost always turn out to be something else, but it’s always worth the trouble of checking because we can’t let a single infection go undetected.

While 13 human cases is an incredibly small number and an accomplishment to be proud of, the goal remains zero. Getting there will be challenging: Community members and health workers are looking out for spaghetti-thin worms emerging from people and animals spread out across tens of thousands of square miles. It takes a lot of resources to cover that kind of territory. Fortunately, The Carter Center has committed, faithful supporters who help cover the costs of this vital work. 

As a steadfast partner, The Carter Center will not relent in the fight against Guinea worm disease. We are in this to the finish — and we are working hard to help achieve this historic accomplishment soon.


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