Former President Jimmy Carter says that Guinea worm may soon be the second human disease eradicated in modern history.
At an event held at The Carter Center on Wednesday, the former president announced that his initiative, that started over 30 years ago, has reached a major milestone with only 25 reported cases of Guinea worm in 2016.
When The Carter Center began combating the African waterborne disease, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases across several countries. Today, reported cases are down to double digits and the tropical parasite only exists in three African countries: Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum also unveiled a new exhibit to display the efforts towards riding the world of Guinea worm as well as other neglected disease. The exhibit, "Countdown to Zero,"showcases the foundation's efforts towards disease control and eradication around the world.
In some of the poorest communities around the world, populations face diseases that have otherwise long been absent in more developed regions. While reflecting on his legacy as a president and his work after leaving office, Carter wished he had known more sooner.
“My main regret is that when I was president of the United States and had a lot of authority and power and influence, I didn’t know about these neglected diseases. I only learned about them after I’d been out of office for a year or so,” said the 92-year-old former president.
Guinea worm is a disease most commonly contracted through contaminated drinking water. Parasitic larvae are found in standing water. When ingested, these microscopic parasites mature and mate within the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after infection a worm can grow between 2 and 3 feet before it begins to emerge from the body.
When The Carter Center began its efforts fighting the disease there were over 3 million reported cases of guinea worm world wide. Speaking at the foundation Wednesday evening Carter shared that there were only 25 cases in 2016. While remaining optimistic, Carter did indicate that there was a slight increase in cases from 2015 to 2016.
According to the Carter Center, Guinea worm will be the first disease eradicated without the use of vaccines or medication. Health officials and scientists at The Carter Center, CDC, World Health Organization, and many others have worked to stop the spread of the disease through education and community-based intervention programs.