This Neglected Tropical Disease Just Hit a Historic Low Worldwide
In 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases every year across 21 countries.
There were only 28 human cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide in 2018, according to a new report from the Carter Center.
The Carter Center, founded by former US President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, is a nonpartisan organization that is devoted to easing human suffering and ensuring human rights.
In 1986, the organization set their sights on the elimination of Guinea worm disease through the Guinea Worm Eradication Program. There were an estimated 3.5 million cases across 21 countries in Africa and Asia at the time.
Guinea worm larvae lurk in water sources and people become infected when they drink this water. Once ingested, the larvae develop within the body into full-sized worms of two or three feet. The worms then cause a blister on the feet or legs, forcing themselves out of the body.
As it currently stands, Guinea worm persists in only three countries: Chad, South Sudan, and Angola. There were 17 human cases in Chad, 10 in South Sudan and just one in Angola.
“Each of these cases is a human being with a family and a life,” Adam Weiss, director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program, said in the report. “These aren’t just numbers, these are people. This is why tens of thousands of volunteers, technical advisers, and staff are working in thousands of villages to find and contain the last cases of this miserable disease and show people how to wipe it out once and for all.”
The year saw some ups and downs in the fight against Guinea worm disease. In some inspiring news, Ethiopia reported no human cases in 2018, after 15 cases were reported in 2017. But, on the flip side, South Sudan’s first reported case came as a blow as the country had not reported cases in the 21 months before. No human cases have been reported in Mali since 2015, but animal infections remain. Kenya officially eliminated Guinea worm disease in 2018.
Angola’s single case came as an unfortunate surprise, as the country had never before reported a case, the Carter Center reported. The country’s government is now working with the World Health Organization (WHO), the Carter Center and partners to determine where this case came from. The victim, an 8-year-old girl, lives in an area of Angola that is more than 1,000 miles away from the closest reported case of Guinea worm disease, according to the Carter Center.
Still, this report shows progress towards the end goal of total elimination. There are now 199 countries certified by the WHO as being free of the disease.
“What the remaining Guinea worm-endemic communities have in common is that they are difficult to reach and often appear in conflict areas or among remote, marginalized populations. We are working to solve the scientific riddle of the animal infections; the other side of the challenge, human violence, is unnecessary and avoidable,” Dr. Dean Sienko, Carter Center vice president for health programs, said.
The final stretch in this campaign to eliminate Guinea worm will be difficult, but the organization remains committed and its elimination will be a big win in global health, paving the way for future disease eradication.