Former President Jimmy Carter’s legacy is the near eradication of the guinea worm

Former president, Jimmy Carter, is still alive remarkably and he is in his hundredth year. It seems that his true legacy is to almost eradicate or at least reduce enormously the incidence of the infestation of African people by the guinea worm.

The Times reports that when the rains come the guinea worm burrows out of bodies, reproducing and causing debilitating pain. In the Sahel region, every year there were 3.5 million infections in 20 countries. Today, there’s been a dramatic reduction as there were only 13 cases in four countries last year.

Sudan was the worst country for this disease but “South Sudan is on the verge of eliminating guinea worm disease,” said South Sudan Health Minister Riek Gai Kok. Just five cases were recorded in 2023.

And we can thank President Carter and his wife for this. They started a campaign in 1986 and they’ve come very close to eliminating the disease.

President Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, died in November 2023. She worked with her husband to eradicate this parasitic infection under the umbrella of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at the Carter Center.

People become infected by this nasty parasite by drinking water containing guinea worm larvae. They grow and mate inside the body of the people who unknowingly ingest the larvae. When the females are a metre long (!) they emerge painfully over weeks and often from the foot.

Naturally people seek relief from the pain and they put their foot in water and the larvae are then released to infect again.

The Guinea Worm Eradication Program’s solution was to filter drinking water and stop people putting their infected feet into lakes and rivers. This was a great public health challenge.

It was a very difficult task according to the foundation. The disease spreads in some very poor countries in the world. And to eliminate the disease from these countries required grassroots assistance and campaigning together with governmental lobbying.

Former President Carter, in 1995, negotiated a six-month truce in the Sudanese Civil War in order to enable access to health workers. The Times reports that this was called the “guinea worm ceasefire”.

And so former president Jimmy Carter’s greatest legacy came after he left office. It is the near extinction of a nasty parasitic species. This is the opposite to the conservation of many iconic and desirable species on the planet.

The work continues with Jason Carter, the couple’s grandson, on the board of the foundation. He said: “Eradicating guinea worm disease and the suffering it causes has long been a dream of my grandparents, and they have worked incredibly hard to make it a reality.”

The Times headline is, “Disease on brink of smallpox-style defeat”. My thanks to the newspaper for this story.

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Post Category: Parasites