Guinea worm is a parasitic disease that has blighted the lives of humans for millennia. A long thin white worm, it is contracted through contaminated drinking water. After a year of silent growth within the body of the host, it erupts through a painful blister, usually on the lower limbs. The sensation is said to resemble a burning coal being pressed to the flesh and the only relief is to submerge the affected area in water. At which point the worm releases thousands of eggs for another victim to drink.
Guinea worm is a non-fatal disease, but it causes great pain and has consequential negative effects upon communities. People suffering from the disease typically have more than one worm, leading to temporary immobility. This curbs their ability to live a fulfilling life – children cannot go to school and parents cannot provide food, exasperating illiteracy and hunger. If the worm is torn whilst being removed, the bacterial infections that follow can lead to permanent paralysis.
There is no cure, vaccine or surgical procedure to treat Guinea worm disease. The only way to halt the disease is by preventing people becoming infected in the first place.
The Carter Center, with support from the World Health Organisation, has successfully driven the Guinea worm eradication effort since the 1980s. Promoting simple health messages to vulnerable populations so they can avoid infection has been highly effective in reducing the disease.
This work is complemented by a broad village volunteer surveillance system to detect and contain all cases, together with filter distributions, chemical treatment of unsafe water sources and provision of safe water sources. These efforts bring basic health care and attention to the world’s most isolated and marginalised communities, in a cause that will benefit all humanity.
This investment builds on a previous grant to The Carter Center which supported the sharp fall in Guinea worm cases from 2011.
The progress towards Guinea worm eradication has been swift and dramatic. In 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million people suffering from the disease in 21 countries. By 2014, there were only 126 cases. In 2015, there were just 22 cases in four countries: Ethiopia, Chad, Mali and South Sudan.