High-ranking representatives of several countries pledged this week to devote all resources needed to interrupt transmission of Guinea worm disease and certify its eradication by 2030.
Ministers and dignitaries endorsed the Abu Dhabi Declaration on the Eradication of Guinea Worm Disease to ensure the neglected tropical disease becomes the first human disease to be eradicated since smallpox in 1980.
Assembling at the UAE’s presidential palace, Qasr Al Watan, leaders from Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Angola, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cameroon confirmed their commitment by signing the declaration. Representatives of Mali, an endemic nation, were unable to attend the event.
The Abu Dhabi Declaration was agreed upon at the conclusion of the 2022 Guinea Worm Summit, a high-level, three-day event co-hosted by The Carter Center and Reaching the Last Mile, a portfolio of global health programs working toward disease elimination that is driven by the personal commitment of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
A sense of urgency surrounded this week’s summit with dignitaries from formerly endemic countries and partner countries on hand to offer support to the nations where the disease remains. Donor countries and organizations also renewed their pledges to support the campaign.
His Excellency Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, Minister of State at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Jason Carter, Carter Center Board of Trustees Chair; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization Director-General, stood in solidarity with the signatories. Additional support was provided by the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE) and Pure Health.
In 2021, just 15 human cases of Guinea worm disease were reported in four countries. When The Carter Center assumed leadership of the eradication campaign in 1986, an estimated 3.5 million cases occurred annually in 21 countries.
“Thanks to the commitment of The Carter Center and partners around the world, we have made incredible progress towards ending Guinea worm disease – but the work is not over. This week we were honored to convene global champions of the eradication effort in Abu Dhabi to renew our shared commitment towards reaching that last mile of disease eradication,” said His Excellency Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan. “It is a privilege to continue the legacy of the founder of our nation, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who believed no one should suffer from a preventable disease. Reaching the last mile of Guinea worm disease cannot come soon enough.”
In July 1990, the late Sheikh Zayed invited former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to the UAE for the first time. During the meeting, President Carter described his initiative to wipe out a parasitic disease affecting millions of people across Africa and Asia. Sheikh Zayed responded with a substantial personal donation to The Carter Center, which established the Abu Dhabi ruling family’s more than 30-year commitment to disease eradication.
The Carter Center, founded by former President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, 40 years ago, seeks to capitalize on recent momentum achieved in battling the disease.
“We observed a dramatic reduction in both human cases and animal infections last year, and I want to help our country partners continue this progress,” said Adam J. Weiss, director of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program at The Carter Center. “The final part of any eradication campaign is the most difficult and expensive, and significant resources are being devoted to eradicating Guinea worm disease. We need to be aggressive to achieve eradication, and this recommitment comes at just the right time.”
“We are more than 99% of the way towards consigning Guinea worm to history, but the last mile is the hardest, and the gains we have made can be easily lost,” said Dr. Tedros. “Our goal is tantalizingly close, but we need relentless political commitment, fidelity to science, more village volunteers, and sustained financial resources to finish the job and ensure future generations live free of this terrible disease.”
The summit spotlighted country leadership and secured recommitments from the final Guinea worm-endemic countries (Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, South Sudan) and pre-certification countries (DRC, Sudan), as well as Cameroon, a country affected by cross-border infection.
Jason Carter, chair of the Carter Center Board of Trustees and grandson of the Center’s founders, said: “My grandfather and His Highness the Crown Prince’s late father were good friends who formed an important alliance against Guinea worm disease. That rich partnership has endured through three generations, and I believe it will go on even after Guinea worm disease is eradicated.”
Guinea worm disease is a particularly devastating disease that incapacitates people for extended periods of time, making them unable to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families, or attend school. The disease is contracted by drinking water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. About a year later, the adult Guinea worm creates a painful lesion in the skin and slowly emerges.
Sufferers may seek relief by immersing their limbs in water, stimulating the worm to release its larvae and renewing the cycle of infection.