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Grants Push Guinea Worm to All-time Low

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced last month that cases of Guinea worm disease have reached an all-time low with fewer than 5,000 estimated cases remaining worldwide. To help eliminate the remaining cases, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) announced new commitments totaling $55 million to support the historic Carter Center-led eradication campaign.

"Guinea worm is poised to be the second disease eradicated from Earth, ending needless suffering for millions of people from one of the world's oldest and most horrific afflictions," said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. "The reduction of Guinea worm cases by more than 99 percent proves that when people work together, great positive change is possible."

The $40 million grant from the Gates Foundation is the largest challenge grant in Carter Center history. It includes an outright contribution of $8 million and encourages other donor organizations and individuals to provide an additional $32 million, which the Gates Foundation will match one-to-one. The successful completion of the challenge will raise $72 million to finish Guinea worm eradication. DFID generously pledged approximately $15 million to support the Guinea worm eradication campaign, and its support will be matched by the Gates Foundation. Both the Gates Foundation and DFID grants will be shared between the Center and the World Health Organization.

A water-borne disease, Guinea worm is transmitted only by drinking contaminated water. The presence of Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) in a geographic area indicates abject poverty, including the absence of safe drinking water. The disease can be controlled through simple measures, such as filtering all drinking water and educating people who are infected to take precautions to prevent transmission.

Guinea worm disease will be the first disease to be wiped off the face of the Earth without a vaccine or medicine. However, the last cases of an eradication campaign are the most difficult and expensive to eliminate.

Although infected cases become fewer and far between, surveillance of countries, including the smallest communities in the most remote areas, needs to be intensified to prevent outbreaks and setbacks. In the case of Guinea worm disease, which has a one-year incubation period, there is a very high cost of maintaining a broad and sensitive monitoring system and providing a rapid response when necessary.

When the eradication campaign began in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 20 nations in Africa and Asia. Today cases remain in only six African nations and have been reduced by 99.7 percent.

In the first 10 months of 2008, only 4,410 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported in Sudan, Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Niger. Cases are expected to remain below 5,000 for the year. Two countries - Nigeria and Niger - already may have reported their last case. Southern Sudan, northern Ghana, and eastern Mali are the main foci of eradication efforts.

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