Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Announces Three Countries Left in Guinea Worm Eradication Campaign: Nigeria and Niger Honored as Most Recent Nations to Halt Disease Transmission
ATLANTA…Former U.S. President and Carter Center Founder Jimmy Carter announced today that only three endemic countries remain in the fight against Guinea worm disease, poised to be only the second disease in history—after smallpox—to be eradicated.
“Guinea worm disease is fewer than 1,800 cases away from becoming only the second disease in history to be wiped from Earth,” said President Carter, who was joined by former Nigeria Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria Federal Minister of Health Prof. Onyebuchi Chuwku, Nigerien Counselor Boubacar Moussa Rilla, and other dignitaries from around the world for the The Carter Center Awards Ceremony for Guinea Worm Eradicationto honor Nigeria and Niger.
“Nigeria and Niger's recent success halting transmission of this ancient and horrible affliction provides yet another vivid reminder of how people in even the most marginalized circumstances can thrive when given the tools and knowledge to help themselves,” President Carter said.
In 2010, fewer than 1,800 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported, 94 percent of which remain in Southern Sudan, with a handful of cases found in eastern Mali and western Ethiopia. Ghana likely has reported its last case and is expected to make a formal announcement later this year.
“The last cases of any disease are the most challenging to wipe out, especially when stability is threatened in the endemic communities of Southern Sudan and Mali,” said Carter Center Vice President of Health Programs and smallpox expert Dr. Donald Hopkins. “But, we know that with the international community's support, eradication of Guinea worm disease is not a question of if, but when.”
Nigeria and Niger, which share a border, join 14 other nations that have wiped out Guinea worm disease since The Carter Center spearheaded the international eradication campaign in 1986. Nigeria—formerly the most Guinea worm-endemic country in the world— and Niger both interrupted transmission in late 2008 and have reported zero indigenous cases for more than 12 months, the incubation period of the parasite.
During the awards ceremony, President Carter, Dr. Hopkins, and Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, director of the Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program, presented representatives from Nigeria and Niger with hand-crafted mahogany and enamel statues representing this historic achievement.
Also known as dracunculiasis, Guinea worm disease is a debilitating parasitic infection that affects people living in remote, poverty-stricken communities. The disease is contracted when people consume water contaminated with infective Guinea worm larvae. After a year, a one-meter-long worm slowly emerges from the body through an agonizingly painful blister in the skin. There are no vaccines or medicines to prevent or treat the disease. Guinea worm is being wiped out chiefly through health education and behavior change, for example using simple tools like water filters to prevent the disease.
Nigeria Guinea Worm Background
Since 1988, the Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program has worked with the Nigeria Ministry of Health to eliminate Guinea worm disease. At the beginning of the campaign, Nigeria was the most endemic country, reporting over 650,000 cases in all 36 states in its first nationwide survey for the disease. Known locally as the “impoverisher,” Guinea worm disease outbreaks in southeastern Nigeria, alone, cost rice farmers an estimated US $20 annually in the late 1980s. However, through persistence, leadership from individuals like General Gowon, and Nigeria's contribution of US $2 million of its own funding to The Carter Center for the campaign, Nigeria reported its last case in a 58-year-old woman in southeastern Nigeria in November 2008.
Niger Guinea Worm Background
In Niger, The Carter Center has been working with the national program to eliminate Guinea worm disease since 1991. When the program began, five of Niger's six regions were endemic, with approximately 33,000 cases of Guinea worm disease in nearly 1,700 villages. A special challenge in the Nigerien campaign has been ensuring that Niger's diverse migratory populations had access to health education and portable water filters (such as pipe filters) to help prevent Guinea worm disease. Niger's elimination also required the creation of strong and unique collaboration among other bordering endemic nations such as Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Niger reported its last case in a 14-year-old boy in southwestern Niger in October 2008.
The International Guinea Worm Eradication Campaign
When The Carter Center began spearheading the international campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 20 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, less than 1 percent of cases remain in pockets of southern Sudan, eastern Mali, and western Ethiopia; 94 percent of remaining cases are found in Southern Sudan.
Strong partnerships at the community level as well as with the national ministries of health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and many other organizations are a critical component of the campaign's success.
Thanks to the dedication, diligence, and effectiveness of national Guinea Worm Eradication Program staff in implementing surveillance, containment, and other interventions against transmission, communities once crippled by the disease are revitalized, children can return to school, and farmers to their fields. Participating in the dramatic improvements in their Guinea worm-free