They’re on the Guinea Worm Front Lines

In 1986, Guinea worm disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries across Africa and Asia. In 2022, just 13* human cases were reported. Working closely with the countries and with support from donors and partners, The Carter Center leads the battle to eradicate the disease. Here are three stories from the front lines.

Medium shot of Regina Natube standing in grassy terrain wearing a blue shirt that reads Stop Guinea Worm.Regina Natube travels across South Sudan to train volunteers in the fight to eliminate Guinea worm disease. She uses song and dance to get her message across. (All photos: The Carter Center)

Singing Her Praises

Regina Natube makes disease eradication memorable. The South Sudanese woman created a catchy song and dance to teach her community about symptoms and prevention of Guinea worm disease and about cash rewards available for those who report possible infections.

The South Sudan Ministry of Health was so impressed with Natube that it created a position for her in its Guinea worm program, and now she travels around the country to train community volunteers. Her interest in the disease is personal: Years ago, she had at least 10 worms emerging from her body, and she said that experience motivates her to work toward eliminating the disease.

Cattleman Nakopir Natiwi endured 15 Guinea worms in two years, leaving him with a permanent disability.

A Painful Reminder

Nakopir Natiwi sticks closer to home than his fellow Toposa cattlemen. His left leg is atrophied, preventing him from traveling as fast and far as them. It’s a constant reminder of the 15 Guinea worms he endured over a two-year period many years ago.

Natiwi, who lives in southeastern South Sudan, contracted the parasitic disease by drinking water contaminated with the tiny water fleas that harbor the early stage of the parasite. After maturing in his abdomen for a year, the worms burned a hole through his skin to emerge from his body in a slow, agonizing process.

“Guinea worm is worse than a knife,” Natiwi said. “The cut of a knife hurts for an instant, but the pain of Guinea worm lasts all day and all night.”

The atrophy in his leg was likely caused when a well-meaning healer tried to cut one or more worms out of him. But that can leave a dead worm under the skin, causing secondary infection and other problems.

Fortunately, Natiwi’s children are unlikely to know the pain of Guinea worm disease. In 2022, just five human cases of the disease were reported in South Sudan.

A man, child, and small dog kneel in front of a village hut.Omod Olenga (right) examines a dog that previously received treatment for several wounds. With the help of young community members, Ethiopians in this area have devised novel ways to halt Guinea worm disease, including tethering their dogs to keep water sources safe.

Village Youth Lead Guinea Worm Fight

The residents of a cluster of villages in remote western Ethiopia are doing everything they can to protect humans and animals from Guinea worm disease.

Even young people are getting into the act. Three villages in Gog district have a cadre of “youth ambassadors” who put on skits to educate other children and adults about Guinea worm disease and how to avoid it. Some of them go through the village daily inspecting dogs for signs and symptoms of Guinea worm infection. The youths talk with their neighbors about the importance of keeping dogs tethered to help stop the spread of the disease and making sure the animals get enough exercise. One village has a fenced area where dogs can play without running the risk of contaminating water sources. On weekends, the youths get together to build or repair doghouses for elderly residents.

Together with workers from the local government and The Carter Center, community members are heading the charge against Guinea worm disease. In 2022, just one human case of the disease was reported in Ethiopia.

Learn more about the Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program >

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top