The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded a $3.5 million grant to The Carter Center for its global effort to end Guinea worm disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a target date of December 1995 to make Guinea worm the second disease to be eradicated after smallpox.
Former President Jimmy Carter accepted the grant in October at a U.S. State Department ceremony in Washington, D.C. The grant to Global 2000's Guinea Worm Eradication Project (GWEP) will be used to provide short-term assistance to many endemic countries in Africa and Asia.
"The elimination of Guinea worm disease will make a dramatic difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout Africa and Asia," said USAID Administrator J. Brian Atwood, who presented the grant to President Carter. "The result will be more effective development in these areas, which can be sustained for years to come."
Guinea worm disease now affects fewer than 500,000 people in India, Pakistan, Yemen, and 16 African countries. More than 3 million people were infected as recently as six to eight years ago. They become infected when they drink water contaminated with microscopic Guinea worm larvae that migrate through the body and grow into thin, thread-like worms up to 1 yard long. The worms emerge from the body one year later through painful blisters and can cause permanent scarring and crippling similar to polio. In highly endemic areas, 50 percent or more of the population may become disabled for weeks or months.
"Although we have made tremendous progress toward our goal of worldwide eradication of Guinea worm disease by the end of 1995, it is important that we encourage the intensification of efforts to meet our goal," said Donald Hopkins, M.D., Global 2000 senior health consultant.
Guinea worm disease can be prevented through health education and water purification. Global 2000 works closely with local health workers to identify infected villages and teach residents how to strain their drinking water through cloth filters. In highly endemic areas, water may be treated with low concentrations of a nontoxic larvicide, Abate (temephos). Installing borehole wells to improve drinking water systems also can stop Guinea worm and other water-borne diseases.
Representatives of Precision Fabrics Group, American Cyanamid, and DuPont Co. attended the grant-signing ceremony in Washington. DuPont and Precision Fabrics Group have donated more than 1 million square yards of nylon filter material to the GWEP campaign, while American Cyanamid has donated supplies of Abate.
The Carter Center, USAID, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and WHO are all partners in this effort.
"Eradicating Guinea worm disease will have many valuable legacies," President Carter said. "One of the most important is the hope that other diseases can be eradicated with this type of worldwide cooperation."
GWEP Progress in Africa
In August, President Carter and Rosalynn Carter traveled to Africa to review the status of GWEP programs in Mauritania, Ghana, and Chad. In Ghana, President and Mrs. Carter presented the 1994 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Guinea Worm Eradication to Sam Bugri, M.D., the national program coordinator of Ghana's GWEP. The award cites Dr. Bugri for "outstanding dedication and achievement as director of Ghana's Guinea Worm Eradication Program since 1988."
"Ghana has achieved a 90 percent reduction in the number of Guinea worm cases over the last four years and is a model program for other countries to follow," Dr. Hopkins said.
Before eradication efforts began, Ghana ranked second in the world in numbers of cases reported. From 1989-93, Ghana reduced the number of cases from 179,556 to 17,918. About 7,000 cases will be reported in Ghana in 1994.
Due to efforts led by The Carter Center, the number of Guinea worm cases officially reported worldwide has dropped from nearly 900,000 in 1989 to about 224,000 cases in 1993--an 80 percent decrease in four years.
Guinea worms can grow up to one yard long within a human host and emerge through painful blisters, causing permanent scarring and crippling similar to polio. USAID has awarded a $3.5 million grant to The Carter Center to help eradicate the disease.