The reduction in cases is to be welcomed in the health community as the coronavirus pandemic increases worldwide. Despite cuts to many programs around the world, the Carter Center said its community-based Guinea worm eradication program remained 95% operational.
“We report a 50% reduction in human cases to just 27 people in the world who had a Guinea worm last year. Compared to 1986, when 3.5 million people in about 21 countries across Guinea Worm disease has been reported mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in the Middle East and Asia, “Adam Weiss, director of the Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program, told The Associated Press.
According to preliminary data, Chad had around 12 cases in 2020, followed by Ethiopia with 11. Angola, Cameroon, Mali and South Sudan each had one case.
Weiss said the COVID-19 pandemic had complicated logistics and supply chains, reduced skills for research activities, and made it difficult to move workers. However, he cited the longstanding work and commitment of the community in fighting the Guinea worm to keep operations going over the past year.
“We are very fortunate that this is a community-based program and so the volunteers have stayed active throughout the pandemic,” he said.
Unlike other diseases that are controlled by drugs or vaccines, the guinea worm can be eradicated by training people to filter and drink clean water. The challenges ahead will be education, monitoring and continuous access to safe drinking water.
Guinea worm disease, contracted from drinking infected water, affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world. The 3 foot long worm is asymptomatic and incubates in humans for up to a year before painfully showing up, often through extremely sensitive body parts.
The Guinea worm is the second human disease to be eradicated after smallpox, according to The Carter Center. The World Health Organization warns that the remaining cases are the most difficult to control as they usually occur in remote and often inaccessible areas.
Sanz reported from Atlanta.
(Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)