Progress in Jimmy Carter’s Quest to End Guinea Worm Disease

Only 22 cases of Guinea worm diseasewere reported in 2015, the Carter Center announced last week, a significant drop from the 126 cases reported in 2014.

The cases were spread across 20 villages in four countries, two of which — Mali and South Sudan — are split by tribal fighting that hampers eradication efforts.

Equally unfortunate, Guinea worms have been found in hundreds of dogsin Chad, raising the danger that they have found a new host. The dogs live in riverbank fishing villages and appear to pick up the worms in offal thrown to them when fish are cleaned.

Guinea worm and polio are the two diseases now closest to being eliminated. Only smallpox and rinderpest — a disease of cattle and other hoofed animals — have ever been wiped out.

There were only 70 cases of polio paralysis in the world last year, all in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There were an additional 26 cases in seven countries of paralysis caused by polio vaccine containing weakened live virus that mutated to become dangerous. Outbreaks of “vaccine-derived poliovirus” can usually be contained in a few months.

The Carter Center, in Atlanta, has led the fight to eliminate Guinea wormsince former President Jimmy Carter made it his mission in 1986. Last August, Mr. Carter revealed that he had liver cancer; he later said it had spread to his brain. But in December, he said treatment had made his tumors disappear.

When the campaign began, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm infestation. As with polio, the fight has taken decades longer than anyone predicted.

“As we get closer to zero, each case takes on increasing importance,” Mr. Carter said in a statement. “The Carter Center and our partners are committed to seeing that this horrible parasitic disease never afflicts future generations.”

Ethiopia had only three cases in 2015, the same number it had in 2014. The country is “well-positioned” to end the disease immediately, the Carter Center said, but its political leaders need to make more effort.

The worms are swallowed in drinking water as minuscule larvae and emerge months later from beneath the skin, often of the legs, as yardlong strands. It can take days to painfully pull them out without breaking them.

There is no vaccine or treatment, so villagers must be convinced to filter their water and treat ponds with chemicals.

A new campaign in Chad asks fishermen to not let their dogs eat raw fish and to tie them up, so infested animals cannot contaminate the drinking water with larvae.


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