According to the Carter Center, the world could be well and truly rid of Guinea worm disease. Some predictions even say this could happen as early as 2019.
Founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the Carter Center has contributed to uplifting the quality of life of people in over 70 countries. The Center's broad goals include advancing human rights and alleviating unnecessary human suffering. In 1986 the Carter Center began the campaign to eradicate Guinea worm; at that time there were an estimated 3.5 million cases spread over 21 countries in Africa and Asia. By 2010, reported cases were less than 1800 (signifying a 99.9% reduction) and were found in only four countries--Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali and Ghana. Revised reports indicate that Ghana and Mali are now free of the disease, and Ethiopia reported isolated cases. The majority of recent cases are found in Southern Sudan, the world newest country and one of the poorest.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center says it needs around $350 million to complete the eradication job. The British government has recently pledged to fund up to one-third of the needed amount, putting in 1 British pound for every 2 donated by other parties.
Guinea worm is contracted by drinking water infected with the larvae of the worm. Months after drinking the water, infected individuals experience great discomfort and itchy, burning sensations on parts of the body such as the legs. To relieve the burning sensation, some people put the affected parts in water to cool and this softens the skin, making it easier for the worm to bore the skin and emerge from the body, very slowly over a period of . Appearance-wise, the worm looks like a peice of spaghetti and is typically about one-meter long.
Simple techniques such as boiling water can kill the worm and make water safe for drinking. However, because wood, a major source of fuel in rural Africa, is sometimes expensive, some peoople forego the boilig process and risk infection. Other methods such as filtering water with special sieves can help trap water flea that carries the worm's larvae. To prevent reinfection of water bodies with the larvae, infected patients with an emerging worm must be barred from entering water bodies that serve as sources of drinking water.
Although not deadly, Guinea worm disease is very painful and can leave sufferers bed-ridden. Currently, here is no cure or vaccine for the disease and once infected, patients can only wait for the disease to take its cycle. As a result, it causes a loss of productivity; researh indicates that children of Guinea worm patients are likely to have stunted growth due to reduced capacity of the parents to work. If the Carter Center's eradication campaign is successful, Guinea worm would become the second disease to be totally eradicated from the world, after smallpox was extinguished in 1978.