Blog | Britain to Help Carter Center Secure Funding For Worldwide Eradication of Worm Disease

In London today, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressed an audience of international journalists and partners to announce that the Carter Center-led global campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease has entered its final stage to end this gruesome waterborne parasitic infection.

“The poorest, most isolated, most neglected, quite often, the most hopeless people, on earth…now have new hope that their future will be free of this dreaded disease,” said President Carter.

Guinea worm disease—which causes agonizing pain and leaves people incapacitated for weeks, even months at a time—once was endemic to 21 nations in Africa and Asia, afflicting approximately 3.5 million people when eradication efforts began in 1986.

Today, the disease is poised to become the second human disease, after smallpox, to be wiped out and the first to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medical treatment.

As the last cases in an eradication campaign are the most difficult and expensive to track, treat, and prevent, the United Kingdom Department for International Development will contribute approximately US $31 million, if other donors come forward, to help end Guinea worm disease transmission before 2015.

“Britain is ready to help fund the final push to eradicate this debilitating disease, and we now need others to join us in taking this historic opportunity to rid the world of Guinea worm,” said United Kingdom International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien.

Other participants in the press conference included Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Carter Center Vice President of Health Programs Dr. Donald Hopkins, and Laurie Lee, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who commented on the scale of the work achieved until now, and the importance for donors to come together and secure the funds to see this through.

“Guinea worm is a painful disease, which has horrendous consequences for sufferers in terms of their immediate health and in terms of their education and employment,” President Carter said. “I welcome the challenge laid down by the British government…I call on other donors to match their efforts.”

Read the press release: Britain to Help Carter Center Secure Worldwide Eradication of Worm Disease >

Photo credit: Carter Center/ J. Cobb
(Left to Right: Minister O’Brien, President Carter)
“It has never been a question of if we can rid the world of this ancient disease – but when. For the price of a sandwich, we can prevent someone in the developing world from catching this terrible disease,” said Minister O’Brien.

Photo credit: Carter Center/ J. Cobb
(Left to Right: Minister O’Brien, President Carter, and Director-General Chan)
“The U.K. has shown its willingness and staying power to help eradicate this debilitating disease. I call on other donors to match their efforts,” President Carter said.

Photo credit: Carter Center/ L. Gubb
Today, South Sudan harbors the vast majority of the world’s remaining cases of Guinea worm disease, which can incapacitate patients for weeks as a worm painfully emerges from a lesion on the skin. In February 2010, Dario Mere (above) suffered worms emerging from both his legs and received free Carter Center-supported treatment and health education at his home in Terakeka County, South Sudan from trained health workers and volunteers.

Photo credit: Carter Center/ L. Gubb
Dr. Donald Hopkins, vice president for Health Programs at The Carter Center, shows South Sudanese children how to prevent Guinea worm disease when they visit their local water source. Dr. Hopkins, a central player in the Center’s work on Guinea worm reminded the International community that the people doing the most to wipe out this disease are the endemic communities, themselves, who need international support overcome this ancient plague: “Resources are especially important at the end of the campaign. It gets more expensive to treat individual cases. We also need to intensify our surveillance of vulnerable regions,” Dr. Hopkins said.

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