In what is likely to be the next eradicated infectious disease following smallpox, the Carter Center announced some big progress concerning Guinea worm disease today.

Guinea worm Image/Video Screen Shot
Guinea worm
Image/Video Screen Shot

Only 22 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported worldwide in 2015, an 83 percent reduction from the 126 cases reported in 2014, the greatest single percentage reduction in human cases in the history of the global campaign. These provisional numbers are reported by the ministries of health in remaining endemic countries and compiled by The Carter Center. When the Center began leading the international campaign to eradicate the parasitic disease in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million Guinea worm cases occurring annually in Africa and Asia.

“As we get closer to zero, each case takes on increasing importance. Full surveillance must continue in the few remaining endemic nations and neighboring countries until no cases remain to ensure the disease does not return,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “The Carter Center and our partners are committed to seeing that this horrible parasitic disease never afflicts future generations.”

As of the end of 2015, there were only 20 endemic Guinea worm villages in four countries — all in Africa, compared to 23,735 villages in 21 countries across two continents in 1991. The 22 indigenous Guinea worm cases were reported in isolated areas of Chad (9), Ethiopia (3), Mali (5), and South Sudan (5).

Although Mali and South Sudan each experienced an outbreak in 2014, both programs achieved more than an 85 percent reduction by redoubling their surveillance and response efforts.

“Guinea worm reductions in South Sudan and Mali in 2015 are even more remarkable because both countries have significant insecurity or civil unrest and had the largest number of cases in 2014. For these nations to make this much progress against disease under such dire circumstances is heroic by any measure,” said Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, director of the Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program.

Considered a neglected tropical disease, Guinea worm disease (Dracunculiasis) is contracted when people consume water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. After a year, a meter-long worm slowly emerges from the body through a painful blister in the skin. Guinea worm incapacitates people for weeks or months, making them unable to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school.

Without a vaccine or medical treatment, 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 anyone with an emerging worm from entering water sources. Guinea worm will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first disease to be eradicated without the use of vaccine or curative treatment.