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President Carter Travels to Sudan to Push Guinea Worm Disease Eradication Efforts

ATLANTA, GA… Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, will participate in the International Conference on the Eradication of Guinea Worm Disease, March 4-7, in Khartoum, Sudan. The meeting, which brings together the leaders of the Guinea worm disease eradication effort from countries throughout Africa, is co-sponsored by the Government of Sudan, The Carter Center, World Health Organization, and UNICEF.

"Through an international coalition, 98 percent of all Guinea worm cases have been eliminated, but serious challenges remain," said President Carter. "To overcome these obstacles, we need financial support, political will, and diplomatic backing so affected countries can finish the job as quickly as possible."

President Carter will speak at the opening ceremony, Monday, March 4. This event is open to the media (see editor's note) and a brief question and answer period will follow the ceremony. Former Nigerian head of state General Yakubu Gowon and former Malian head of state General Amadou Toumani Touré will join President Carter to help focus national attention on health-related issues in Sudan.

Also in attendance will be several federal ministers of health, ambassadors, representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and NGOs, religious leaders, and community representatives. President of the Republic of Sudan General Omar al-Bashir will preside over the opening ceremony. Guinea worm disease cripples victims, leaving them unable to work, attend school, care for children, or harvest crops. Eradicating or even reducing the incidence of Guinea worm disease in a country, improves quality of life for all people.

The Carter Center leads the global eradication effort against Guinea worm disease that has reduced worldwide incidence of the disease by 98 percent, from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to less than 65,000 in 2001. After smallpox, Guinea worm disease is targeted to be the second disease to be eradicated from the world. Sudan remains the greatest challenge to Guinea worm disease eradication, accounting for 80 percent of the world's remaining reported cases.

The Sudan civil war is now the single largest obstacle to achieving eradication. In 2001, The Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program reported 49,471* cases of Guinea worm in 3,921* villages; however, the civil war prevents health workers from obtaining complete reports and educating people on how to eradicate the disease in about 2,500 know endemic villages. The areas with the highest incidence of disease are located in the southern part of the country. Low-level transmission still occurs in seven northern states, particularly along their borders with the southern endemic states. These northern states account for less than one percent of the total number of cases in Sudan.

Despite 18 years of civil war in Sudan, there have been major steps toward eradicating Guinea worm disease there. In 1995, The Carter Center brokered a humanitarian cease-fire that lasted nearly six months, and last summer all Sudanese parties helped to distribute up to nine million pipe filters - one for every man, woman, and child at risk for the disease. Use of the pipe filter prevents individuals from consuming contaminated water, thus interrupting disease transmission.

"Using low-tech methods and knowledge gained from eradication efforts, the poorest of the poor have the tools to help themselves and achieve results. However, peace and stability also are essential to the eradication effort," said Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, technical director of the Carter Center's Global 2000 Guinea Worm Eradication Program.

Since 1993, Guinea worm disease has been totally eradicated from seven countries: Cameroon, Chad, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, and Yemen. In 12 African countries, excluding Sudan, an estimated 14,000 cases of Guinea worm occurred in 2001. "The world expects the remaining African countries that are close to eradication to do it soon. When that happens, the eradication of this disease will set a precedent for wiping out other preventable diseases, such as polio, measles, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis," said Dr. Donald Hopkins, Carter Center associate executive director for health programs.

In addition to the Center's fight against Guinea worm disease, The Carter Center has a number of other programs working to advance both health and peace. The Carter Center established offices in Sudan in 1995 and assists medical personnel on both sides of the civil war, as a neutral party. The Center expanded its work in fighting disease in Sudan to include river blindness and trachoma control in 1995 and 2000 respectively.

On the peace front, the Center continues its work with the governments of Sudan and Uganda to implement the 1999 Nairobi Agreement, aimed at improving relations between the two countries through addressing issues of mutual concern, notably support for rebel groups active in each other's countries.

* Provisional numbers for 2001.

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