By Staub, Emily

AUGUST 4, 2010
ATLANTA…In the August 2010 issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, a new paper co-authored by experts from the Nigeria Ministry of Health, The Carter Center, and the World Health Organization, details Nigeria's historic triumph over many challenges to successfully eliminate the ancient waterborne plague Guinea worm disease (also known as dracunculiasis).

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“The Guinea Worm Eradication Program reached into extremely remote areas of Nigeria. At least once, [program] workers in pursuit of dracunculiasis discovered a village that was previously wholly unknown to any government authority,” says the article. “In 2010, Nigeria celebrates 50 years of political independence and one year of freedom from Guinea worm disease, but other public health challenges await,” the authors note.

Already, in partnership with the national programs, The Carter Center is leveraging health infrastructure created by the Guinea worm program to pioneer innovative interventions against other neglected diseases such as river blindness, schistosomiasis, lymphatic filariasis, and trachoma.

Once the most Guinea worm-endemic country in the world, Nigeria—Africa's most populous country—was burdened with more than 653,000 cases of the debilitating parasitic infection in 1988. For two decades, using an extensive network of thousands of village volunteers as the foundation of the program, endemic communities implemented simple interventions such as health education, filtering contaminated drinking water, voluntary use of case containment centers, and monthly surveillance and case reporting, among other activities. As a result of this hard work, Nigeria reported its last case in November 2008.

Critical factors to the program's success included: strong government support, the dedication of endemic communities, advocacy by former Nigeria Head of State, Gen. Dr. Yakubu Gowon, and technical and financial assistance from The Carter Center, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and many other partners and donors, as well as coverage in Nigerian media outlets.

Guinea worm disease is poised to become the next disease after smallpox to be eradicated from Earth and the first to be wiped out without the use of a vaccine or medicine. Nigeria, along with its northern neighbor Niger, joins 14 other countries that have rid themselves of Guinea worm disease since The Carter Center spearheaded the international Guinea worm disease eradication campaign a quarter-century ago. At the beginning of the campaign, in 1986, approximately 3.5 million cases were reported in 20 countries in Africa and Asia.

In 2009, 3,190 cases were reported in pockets of four remaining endemic countries: southern Sudan, northern Ghana, eastern Mali, and western Ethiopia. While Nigeria continues its three-year Guinea worm disease surveillance period required for it to be officially certified by the World Health Organization as free of the disease, experts are focusing on how to repeat Nigeria's success in the world's last strongholds of the disease.

Contact: Emily Staub (+1-404-420-5126, [email protected])

Paige Rohe (+1-404-420-5129, [email protected])