We’re proud to celebrate with Ghana and the Carter Center the elimination of Guinea worm (dracunculiasis) from Ghana. Several years ago Google.org provided $1,450,000 in funding to the Carter Center to support the eradication of this debilitating, 3,000 year old disease from Ghana. It’s now been 14 months since the last case of Guinea worm was reported there.
This is a fantastic accomplishment that took a lot of hard work by the Carter Center, the Ministry of Health and their partners. There is no drug to prevent the infection of Guinea worm disease. Thus, our funds supported health education, as village-based health workers were trained to educate people about the origins of the disease and how to prevent it. In addition, these health workers mobilized to treat water sources, advocate for the provision of clean water, and monitor and contain cases of Guinea worm. With our funds in 2008, the Carter Center achieved an 85% reduction in cases--the largest year over year percentage reduction seen in the history of the program! Ghana now enters an additional surveillance period to achieve official World Health Organization certification of its success.
Guinea worm is caused by a roundworm that lays its larvae in water. When people drink the infected water the larvae hatch inside them and can grow up to 3 feet in length before painfully emerging through their skin about a year later. There’s no way of knowing where the worm will emerge. It’s not unusual for it to exit near the ankle or foot, which impairs the victim’s movement and ability to work. It’s a slow and painful process to remove the worm without breaking it off in the patient. Often, affected individuals seek relief by submerging their sores in water, at which point the worm releases new larvae into the water and the cycle continues.
In 1986, when the Carter Center began the campaign to eradicate Guinea worm, there were more than 3.5 million cases across 20 countries in Asia and Africa. Today, only 3 countries remain: South Sudan, Mali and Ethiopia. So far this year only 800 cases have been reported.
To date, smallpox is the only human disease that’s been eradicated. The Carter Center is well on its way to making Guinea worm the second human disease to be wiped off the earth.