It’s been more than 40 years since former US President Jimmy Carter was first sworn in as commander-in-chief, and while he only served one term, he never really retired from working to serve the people.
Carter’s consistent humanitarian efforts in the last four decades — plus his advocacy work in support of equality and human rights before his presidency — have made him one of America’s great social activists. In truth, he is generally better regarded for the work he's done since leaving the White House than he is for his time as president.
The work he’s done later in his life is what has cemented his legacy as a humanitarian — and earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1982, one year after leaving office, Carter and former first lady Rosalynn, his wife of 72 years, started the Carter Center, a nonpartisan organization that is committed to human rights and easing human suffering. With the Carter Center, they traveled the world to help strengthen democracy and support fair elections — only in countries that invited them in — by analyzing election laws and observing countless elections all over the world.
Then, in 1986, the Carter Center started fighting neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), setting the goal of complete elimination for diseases like dracunculiasis, which is more commonly known as Guinea worm disease. That goal was very ambitious at a time when there were an estimated 3.5 million cases across 21 countries in Africa and Asia. But decades later, the Carter Center's latest report indicated that there were only 28 cases in 2018.
They have since expanded their work on NTDs to include programs for river blindness, trachoma, schistosomiasis, and lymphatic filariasis.
In a 2014 interview with CNN, Carter explained why prioritizing the elimination of NTDs was a worthy investment.
"To go into those villages and see them afflicted in a horrible way and to know that that disease doesn’t need to exist there, because it’s been eliminated in the richer countries," he said. "And then to start a treatment program that our staff carries out, working side-by-side with the local folks and then to go back later and see the disease is gone, and that the people have totally a totally transformed life — those are some great dividends to be derived from small investments."
According to Carter, eradicating and eliminating NTDs in these countries strengthens them because they can then focus their limited resources on education and economic development instead of disease control.
To get started, Carter would visit a country and negotiate a contract between the country itself and the Carter Center. Later, the center would work with the local minister of health, he told Fox News in 2017.
He doesn’t take credit, though — he gives it instead to village volunteers and their diligence, heroism, and perseverance of enforcing national programs. He also credits governments from the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other partners for their financial contributions.
In August 2015, Carter was diagnosed with melanoma on his liver after undergoing a significant surgery. A week later, he announced he had small spots on his brain. Following radiation and chemotherapy treatments, however, the former president is now considered cancer-free.
"I hope that I will live longer than the last Guinea worm," he once said in a Channel 4 News interview. "That’s one of my goals in life."