Former President Jimmy Carter’s family has announced that he is undergoing hospice care at home, a sign of his imminent passing. In his honor, I am reprinting this column with some updates.
The guinea worm may be the second major human disease after smallpox to be completely eradicated. It is a parasite that you get from drinking water with small fleas in it. The larvae of the worm are in the fleas, and they migrate into your muscles. After growing there for a year, as a long thread gathered in a bump, the worm works its way out over two or three days, which is extremely painful and potentially debilitating. The disease mainly existed in Central Africa, and especially in South Sudan. At its height it afflicted 3.5 million people in 21 countries.
The Carter Center is reporting that in 2022, only 13 human cases were reported worldwide!
In some countries, such as Nigeria, no new cases have been reported for a couple of years.
As I understand the story, after he left the White House, Jimmy Carter did a lot of traveling for his foundation. He saw those suffering from the guinea worm, and asked what could be done about it. The flea that carries the larvae is big enough so that even just filtering water through cloth would get rid of it. From 1986, Carter put together a coalition of the World Health Organization and health ministries in the afflicted countries (which then included Pakistan) to get the word out to people about the need for water filtration.
He even at one point in the mid-1990s helped negotiate a ceasefire between the north and the south in Sudan so that his activists could reach affected villagers and teach them how to filter the water!
The Garter Center thus spearheaded this effort, though it became an international movement with many participants.
The Carter Center is reporting in 2023 that “Globally, only six countries remain to be certified, including five endemic countries (Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, South Sudan) and one formerly endemic country (Sudan, which is now in the precertification stage).”
Carter has proven what a determined person can accomplish through single-minded purpose driven by compassion, and the pursuit of strategic partnerships and cooperation. The former president has given the world a model that should be deployed to solve other pressing problems. He is one of the world’s few true heroes.