Jimmy Carter is about to end Guinea worm disease

Jimmy Carter is, at the age of 90, working toward a very meaningful and attainable goal–and it has nothing to do with his own health. The former President is taking on the battle against Guinea worm disease, a neglected tropical disease that once affected more than 3.5 million people every year. But why did President Carter decide to take on Guinea worm disease, a considerably less-known issue when compared to other global epidemics? It was exactly for the reason that no one else was doing anything about it. SEE ALSO: Leishmaniasis: Disfiguring facial parasite “In the years 1980 to 1990, the United Nations had the Freshwater Decade [officially called the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade] emphasizing the importance of freshwater,” President Carter explained to NPR. “The Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations who headed that program was my former drug czar Dr. Peter Borne, who was a friend of mine. So he came to the Carter Center to describe some of the horrible diseases that resulted from drinking bad water, including Guinea worm. And the main reason he came to the Carter Center was because he couldn’t get anyone else to tackle this problem.” The former President explained Guinea worm disease was in such remote villages that no one wanted to take on the task, so back in 1986 The Carter Center took the mission on and has been going at it ever since. “Twenty-six thousand five hundred villages were affected — and [the Carter Center] has been to every one of them,” he said. Guinea worm disease is caused by the parasitic worm Dracunculus medinensis, and is also known as dracunculiasis. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates this parasitic worm is the largest of the tissue parasites affecting humans, and affects a host animal by migrating through the victim’s subcutaneous tissues causing severe pain especially when it occurs in the joints. Eventually the parasite emerges from the body (usually in the feet) in the form of a painful, burning blister that bursts open when exposed to water. This releases hundreds of thousand Guinea worm larvae into the water source, allowing the life cycle to start over again. Individuals with guinea worm disease often suffer from fever, nausea and vomiting as well as the blister associated with this condition. “One of the first cases of Guinea worm I ever saw was a beautiful young woman who I thought was holding a baby in her right arm,” said President Carter. “But it was actually her right breast, and it had a Guinea worm a foot long coming out of her nipple. She later had 11 other Guinea worms coming out of her body that year. On that visit we had a banker who volunteered to pay to dig a deep well for the village [so they could have clean water]. And when we went back there a year later, there was no more guinea worm. That’s what happens quite often when the villages take advantage of the advice that we give them. We let them do the work, and we give them credit for it.” The Carter Center expects that, through the introduction of clean water supplies, Guinea worm disease is set to become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated. It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medicine, according to the Center’s website. SEE ALSO: Schistosomiasis: a Latin American neglected tropical disease “The Carter Center is wiping out this ancient disease mainly through community-based interventions to educate and change behavior, such as teaching people to filter all drinking water and preventing transmission by keeping anyone with an emerging worm from entering water sources,” reads the strategy statement. “The Center’s strategy is to work with ministries of health to help educate people so they can help stop the spread of the disease as well as maintain political will.” Through President Carter’s efforts, instances of Guinea worm disease have been reduced from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986 to 126 in 2014. Since efforts have been made to eliminate Guinea worm disease, an estimated 80 million cases have been averted.The post Jimmy Carter is about to end Guinea worm disease appeared first on Voxxi.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his organization have almost eradicated Guinea worm disease. (Nir Levy/ Shutterstock)

Jimmy Carter is, at the age of 90, working toward a very meaningful and attainable goal–and it has nothing to do with his own health. The former President is taking on the battle against Guinea worm disease, a neglected tropical disease that once affected more than 3.5 million people every year.

But why did President Carter decide to take on Guinea worm disease, a considerably less-known issue when compared to other global epidemics? It was exactly for the reason that no one else was doing anything about it.

SEE ALSO: Leishmaniasis: Disfiguring facial parasite

“In the years 1980 to 1990, the United Nations had the Freshwater Decade [officially called the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade] emphasizing the importance of freshwater,” President Carter explained to NPR. “The Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations who headed that program was my former drug czar Dr. Peter Borne, who was a friend of mine. So he came to the Carter Center to describe some of the horrible diseases that resulted from drinking bad water, including Guinea worm. And the main reason he came to the Carter Center was because he couldn’t get anyone else to tackle this problem.”

The former President explained Guinea worm disease was in such remote villages that no one wanted to take on the task, so back in 1986 The Carter Center took the mission on and has been going at it ever since. “Twenty-six thousand five hundred villages were affected — and [the Carter Center] has been to every one of them,” he said.

Guinea worm disease is caused by the parasitic worm Dracunculus medinensis, and is also known as dracunculiasis. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates this parasitic worm is the largest of the tissue parasites affecting humans, and affects a host animal by migrating through the victim’s subcutaneous tissues causing severe pain especially when it occurs in the joints. Eventually the parasite emerges from the body (usually in the feet) in the form of a painful, burning blister that bursts open when exposed to water. This releases hundreds of thousand Guinea worm larvae into the water source, allowing the life cycle to start over again.

Individuals with guinea worm disease often suffer from fever, nausea and vomiting as well as the blister associated with this condition.

“One of the first cases of Guinea worm I ever saw was a beautiful young woman who I thought was holding a baby in her right arm,” said President Carter. “But it was actually her right breast, and it had a Guinea worm a foot long coming out of her nipple. She later had 11 other Guinea worms coming out of her body that year. On that visit we had a banker who volunteered to pay to dig a deep well for the village [so they could have clean water]. And when we went back there a year later, there was no more guinea worm. That’s what happens quite often when the villages take advantage of the advice that we give them. We let them do the work, and we give them credit for it.”

MAke sure water is clean before drinking
Drinking from contaminated water supplies is what spreads Guinea worm disease. (Shutterstock)

The Carter Center expects that, through the introduction of clean water supplies, Guinea worm disease is set to become the second human disease in history, after smallpox, to be eradicated.

It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medicine, according to the Center’s website.

SEE ALSO: Schistosomiasis: a Latin American neglected tropical disease

The Carter Center is wiping out this ancient disease mainly through community-based interventions to educate and change behavior, such as teaching people to filter all drinking water and preventing transmission by keeping anyone with an emerging worm from entering water sources,” reads the strategy statement. “The Center’s strategy is to work with ministries of health to help educate people so they can help stop the spread of the disease as well as maintain political will.”

Through President Carter’s efforts, instances of Guinea worm disease have been reduced from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986 to 126 in 2014. Since efforts have been made to eliminate Guinea worm disease, an estimated 80 million cases have been averted.

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