It is not everyday that a nasty parasitic disease is wiped off the face of the Earth…in fact, this has yet to have ever happened — until this year, when the Carter Center seems poised to complete its decades-long work in eradicating the debilitating guinea worm infection.
Once the scourge of the developing world — affecting nearly 4 million people less than three decades ago — this painful disease has been reduced to less than two dozen cases as of 2015 (which in turn was 83 percent less than in 2014).
The Daily Kos explains why this is such a big deal:
Considered a neglected tropical disease, Guinea worm disease (Dracunculiasis) is contracted when people consume water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. After a year, a meter-long worm slowly emerges from the body through a painful blister in the skin. Guinea worm incapacitates people for weeks or months, making them unable to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school.
Not only do victims contend with considerable discomfort and misery in the process, but entire families and communities suffer from the subsequent economic and educational impact.
Remarkably, this awful bug, which has bedeviled humankind for millennia, has no known vaccine, cure, or medical treatment; its destruction is due wholly to preventative measures and community-oriented interventions.
According to Vox:
explainedNew England Journal of Medicine
So not only is this the first time a parasitic disease has been eradicated, but also the first time that this was accomplished solely through education and behavior change.
As if all this was not impressive enough, Vox also points that in addition to vastly reducing the rate of infection, the Carter Center and its partners accomplished this with considerable cost-effectiveness:
Learn more about this milestone from the official Carter Center press release here.
Technically, a disease is only officially eradicated following an extensive certification process of every country in the world. But at the rate that guinea worm is declining, it seems poised for formal recognition as a moribund disease very soon.
Of course, whether it is officially gone or not, the millions of people now freed from this horrific disease are evidence enough of a job well done. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, their organization, and the thousands of partners that worked with them, should be commended for such a stunning achievement. What a way to start to the new year.
In addition to being at the forefront of wiping out guinea-worm and other neglected yet troubling diseases, the Carter Center has been spearheading a multitude of humanitarian efforts ranging from guaranteeing free and fair elections, to ending the stigma of mental illness.
In addition to its measurable results, the group scores very well on watchdogs like Charity Navigator, which further ensures that its funds are well spent. I invite readers to join me in being a regular contributor, or giving what you can to help humanity reach more humanitarian watersheds like this.