The Eradication of Guinea Worm

Dracunculiasis, or Guinea worm disease, is an infection caused by the parasite Dracunculus medinensis. The disease is spread through contaminated water and has ravaged many areas of Africa. Unknowing victims consume the larvae, once inside, these worms penetrate the digestive track and infiltrate the body. It’s hard to tell that you have it until the day you’re hit with fever, pain, and swelling. The pain only gets worse as the worm pushes it’s way out the body. They literally break through your skin in order to breed. 

The sensation you feel once the worm is out is similar to that of burning flesh. Victims feel an undying want to submerge the area into water where the cycle starts over again. Many times they come through the legs or feet, but they’re known to escape from anywhere. The worm can grow up to one meter long, and must be pulled out a few centimeters a day until it is free. The process can take a few weeks and is said to be unbearably painful. What’s sad is that the disease is totally preventable, but the access to clean water in these areas is slim to none. That is, until President Jimmy Carter took matters into his own hands. 

The Carter Center, President Carter’s foundation started in 1986, put forth an initiative to combat the disease. In 1986 over three million cases were reported, a significantly large number don’t you think? Well, in 2015 only 22 cases were reported! In only 30 years President Carter’s actions have nearly wiped the world clean of this parasitic disease, a feat unlike any other. Not many diseases have been destroyed, there’s smallpox, Polio, and Guinea Worm… Almost! It was deemed impossible considering there was no vaccine or medication to help fight the worm. So how did the president do it? 

One, he kept infected people away from the water. Once infected people enter the water it gives the worm a chance to release larvae. This increases other people’s chances of contracting the disease, and starting the cycle over. Part of Carter’s initiative included hiring shore guards to keep watch of people. They kept those infected from going near any body of water.

Two, providing materials that allowed people to filter their water. Again, this disease is preventable so long as water is clean. Providing these materials and encouraging patrons to use them drastically cut down on numbers. Three, monitor and control where the outbreaks are happening. Keeping an eye on these areas helped Carter to send help where it was needed most. The areas that were most hit by the disease would obviously need special care. Knowing that and giving them that extra assistance also cut down on numbers. 

Thanks to President Carter we may see the complete eradication of this disease. It is predicted it’ll be completely gone in the next few years. The complete destruction of an invasive disease like Guinea Worm gone in the span of a lifetime. The span of a lifetime?! Unprecedented, Unbelievable, and truly amazing.

HCXO