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Looking to the Future in Sudan

This letter sent Jan. 11, 2011, by Carter Center Health Programs Vice President Donald R. Hopkins, M.D., M.P.H., is in response to an editorial published Jan. 8, 2011, by The New York Times.

To the Editor:

"Southern Sudan Votes" (editorial, Jan. 8) rightly notes that the government of southern Sudan has "set up more than two dozen ministries and built schools and roads" since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005.

Another important "peace dividend" being realized is that southern Sudan has reduced its cases of Guinea worm disease by 92 percent, to about 1,700 cases in 2010 from more than 20,000 cases in 2006.

The focus of a global eradication campaign that has reduced the number of cases by more than 99 percent since 1986, Guinea worm disease is manifest by three-foot-long worms emerging through the skin over several weeks.

It is transmitted by drinking contaminated water, but can be prevented by educating people to filter their water through a cloth and by providing clean sources of drinking water. There is no vaccine and no curative treatment.

With 95 percent of all cases in the world, southern Sudan is now the key to completing the global campaign by 2012, and most cases of Guinea worm are now focused in only six of its 80 counties. This accomplishment has improved health, agricultural productivity and school attendance for thousands of southern Sudanese while training almost 30,000 Sudanese health workers and volunteers, despite handicaps of a vast landscape, poor infrastructure, a long rainy season, sporadic insecurity and exceptional mobility of rural populations among villages, farms and cattle camps.

This achievement against such great odds also shows what southern Sudanese can do when they have peace, and it is a good foundation for improving health services in the future.

Donald R. Hopkins
Atlanta, Jan. 11, 2011

The writer, a pediatrician, is vice president for health programs, Carter Center.

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