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Guinea Worm Disease Closer to Eradication

ATLANTA GA, United States

Continued progress in the global campaign to eradicate Guinea worm has been welcomed by Non-Governmental Agencies and other campaign partners.

In 2017, there were only 20 villages with cases of Guinea worm disease in two countries, both in Africa, compared to 23,735 villages in 21 countries on two continents in 1991. From January through December 2017, there were 30 indigenous Guinea worm cases reported provisionally in isolated areas of Chad and Ethiopia.

Provisional numbers are reported monthly by the ministries of health of the remaining endemic countries and compiled by The Carter Center based in Atlanta, USA, which leads the international Guinea Worm Eradication Program in partnership with national programs, the World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNICEF, and others.

Without a vaccine or medicine, the parasitic disease is being wiped out mainly through community-based interventions to educate and change behavior, such as teaching people to filter all drinking water and preventing contamination by keeping patients from entering water sources.

Back in 1986, Guinea worm disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.999 percent.

For a disease to be considered eradicated, every country must be certified, even if transmission has never taken place there. Only eight countries remain to be certified as having eliminated Guinea worm disease.

Considered a neglected tropical disease, Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) is contracted when people consume water contaminated with tiny crustaceans that carry Guinea worm larvae. The larvae mature and mate inside the patient’s body. The male worm dies. After a year, a meter-long female worm emerges slowly through a painful blister in the skin. Contact with water stimulates the emerging worm to release its larvae into the water and start the process all over again. Guinea worm disease incapacitates people for weeks or months, reducing individuals’ ability to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school.

The provisional reports for 2017 totaled 15 cases in Chad and 15 cases in Ethiopia, the only remaining countries reporting ongoing cases of the disease. All of the cases in Ethiopia occurred in migrant workers from Oromia region on an industrial farm in Abobo district of adjacent Gambella region, where in 2016 individuals drank unfiltered water from a contaminated pond, resulting in an outbreak from September through December 2017. Intensive interventions, including treatment of the pond with larvicide were undertaken in immediate response and Ethiopian health authorities have redoubled their surveillance and response efforts.

The Republic of Mali has recorded zero human cases of Guinea worm disease for 25 while the Republic of South Sudan has reported zero cases for 13 consecutive months.