In 2016, only three countries ― Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, reported a total of 25 human cases of Guinea worm disease. For the first time, Mali reported none. In 2015, four countries ― Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, and South Sudan ― had reported 22 cases.
In 2016, there were 16 human cases in Chad, three (3) in Ethiopia, and six (6) in South Sudan. The cases were in 19 isolated villages, and all were contained within their countries of origin.
These provisional numbers are reported by the respective countries’ ministries of health and tracked by The Carter Center.
“When The Carter Center joined the fight against Guinea worm disease, there were about 3.5 million cases in 21 countries,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “This remarkable progress is due to the commitment of many partners and supporters, most especially the ministries of health in endemic nations. Mali, the most recent nation to record zero cases for one year, should be commended for its success.”
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 slowly emerges 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.
No vaccine or medical treatment exists for Guinea worm infection in humans. Instead, the ancient 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.
“The progress we have seen in restricting Guinea worm disease to these few cases in only three countries is a testament to the dedication of people in endemic areas to caring for their health and that of their communities,” said Dr. Dean Sienko, the Carter Center’s vice president of health programs. “It’s a privilege to partner with them as we tackle this challenge together.”
While there was a slight increase in cases from 2015, the containment rate (cases that were identified before the disease could spread) increased from 36 percent in 2015 to 56 percent in 2016, an important indicator of future eradication results. The ministries of health of the four countries are to be commended for their persistence and skill in tracking down cases and rumors of cases, often in insecure areas.