The Carter Center, along with South Sudan’s health minister, Dr. Riek Gai Kok announced today that South Sudan has succeeded in interrupting transmission of Guinea worm disease.

Image/Alvaro1984 18
Image/Alvaro1984 18

As of the end of February 2018, South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has recorded zero cases of Guinea worm disease for 15 consecutive months. Because the Guinea worm life cycle is about a year, a 15-month absence of cases indicates the interruption of transmission.

The most recent case in South Sudan occurred in Khor Jamus village, Jur River County, Western Bahr al Ghazal state in Nov. 2016.

“This is a great achievement for our young nation,” Dr. Riek Gai Kok, South Sudan’s health minister, said during the global Guinea Worm Eradication Program’s 22nd annual review at The Carter Center. “Our health workers and thousands of volunteers have done exemplary work eliminating this disease across our country, and I have no doubt that the World Health Organization will grant certification in due time.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has certified 199 countries, territories, and areas as free of Guinea worm disease. Kenya received WHO certification in February, having detected no cases since 1994. As South Sudan enters the precertification stage, the only countries remaining to be certified are Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan.

Chad and Ethiopia each reported 15 cases in 2017. Those 30 were the only cases in the world in 2017; when The Carter Center began leading the Guinea worm eradication campaign in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases annually in 21 countries on two continents.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter congratulated South Sudan saying, “The people and government of South Sudan have achieved a great milestone in the worldwide effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease. Today’s news is the fruit of good faith shown by all parties that agreed to the 1995 cease-fire during Sudan’s terrible civil war, allowing health workers to start a campaign of interventions against this horrible parasitic disease,” said Carter, who negotiated the cease-fire. “South Sudan’s success shows that people can collaborate for the common good. We look forward to certification by the WHO in the next few years that South Sudan has won the battle against this ancient scourge. We are within reach of a world free of Guinea worm disease.”

Jimmy Carter: ‘I’d like for the last guinea worm to die before I do’

Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, an original architect of the Guinea worm eradication campaign with the Carter Center said, “South Sudan prevailed despite the most complex Guinea worm transmission among humans of any country, peak prevalence during a long rainy season, vast territory, and poor infrastructure, as well as ongoing postwar insecurity”.

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 about 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.

Without a vaccine or medicine, the ancient 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.

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