Ethiopians Fight Guinea Worm Disease on All Fronts

Editor's Note:In light of recent events, we have been reflecting on the depth and breadth of President Carter’s impact. This is one in a series of stories from our archives that show how his principles, expressed through Carter Center initiatives, have affected the lives of real people.

Ethiopians Fight Guinea Worm Disease on All Fronts

First published May 18, 2020

From community engagement to water treatment and filtering to dog tethering, a cluster of villages in remote western Ethiopia is applying creative strategies to protect humans and animals from Guinea worm disease, and their diligence is paying off.

On a cloudy morning, 15 young men gather at the Carter Center’s Guinea worm compound in Gog. Their job is to ensure every pond and well around the villages of Ablen, Wichini, and Atheti is treated every 28 days with Abate® larvicide to help interrupt the worm’s life cycle, which depends on still water.

  • With the assistance of his colleagues, Wegwa Odol Othow (yellow shirt) measures a pond for application of a safe larvicide that helps stop the Guinea worm life cycle.

    With the assistance of his colleagues, Wegwa Odol Othow (yellow shirt) measures a pond for application of a safe larvicide that helps stop the Guinea worm life cycle.

One of those men is Wegwa Odol Othow, 21, who goes by the nickname Owick. He used to hunt baboons, which farmers consider pests, using dogs to chase them down. One day a few years ago, Owick caught a small baboon that had about 10 white worms emerging from its skin. The worms were confirmed to be Guinea worms, which had not been seen in baboons before. Owick's discovery sparked an aggressive effort to monitor and apply Abate to watering holes used by baboons, even deep in the forest.

Baboon hunters and wood gatherers are now paid to watch over watering holes and help The Carter Center and health ministry monitor baboon troupes’ movements.

Owick began volunteering with other youth to teach community members how to avoid Guinea worm infection.

Because loose dogs are at risk of acquiring Guinea worm disease from the same water sources the baboons use, people in Gog agreed to stop using dogs for hunting and to keep them tethered to prevent them from entering the water.

Owick quit hunting to devote all his time to Guinea worm work. He gave two of his dogs to his cousin, Obang, 14, himself a volunteer in Ablen.

One of the duties of youth volunteers is to inspect every dog daily for signs of Guinea worm infection. Obang loves this part of his role. He starts with the dogs Owick gave him, then checks his neighbors’ dogs.

Ablen now is home to Ethiopia’s first dog park, for which the government donated land and The Carter Center provided fencing. There, dogs can frolic safely, away from water, and become more domesticated.

Everyone in Ablen, Atheti, and Wichini wears a pipe filter around their neck. Every household uses a water filter when filling containers at a well, pond, or river and filters the water again before using it at home.

The efforts are working. Great strides have been made against Guinea worm disease in humans and animals in Ethiopia.

2023 Update

Just one human case of Guinea worm disease and three infections in animals were reported in Ethiopia in 2022. Only 13 human cases were reported globally.

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