Four African nations, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, and Togo have received the Carter Center Awards for ending the transmission of Guinea worm disease in 2007. The Carter Center is a nongovernmental, not-for-profit, organization founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter. President Carter and the former First Lady, helped present the awards earlier this month in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
At the ceremonies, President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali received a special award for spear-heading a Guinea worm eradication effort within Francophone African countries. Nigeria received special mention for nearly eliminating Guinea worm disease last year, with participants predicting it would achieve that milestone this year. The four nations honored by the Carter Center this year join Benin, Mauritania, Uganda, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, and Yemen in eradicating this terrible disease.
Guinea worm is a debilitating parasite affliction that causes severe pain and economic hardship. It is contracted when people consume water contaminated with infected larvae. After a year, the one-meter long worm slowly emerges from the body through an agonizingly painful blister created on the skin. Children suffering from the disease cannot attend school because they, like other victims, are incapacitated for an average of two months after a worm has begun to emerge. Communities suffer food shortages when their afflicted residents are unable to farm.
The Carter Center’s global campaign to eradicate the disease has reduced the number of cases worldwide by more than ninety-nine percent from an estimated three-and-a-half million in 1986 to fewer than ten-thousand cases in 2007.
Today, only five countries, Nigeria, Niger, Sudan, Ghana, and Mali are yet to completely eradicate the disease. Ghana and Sudan now report ninety-six percent of the world’s remaining cases.
The United States government has, for decades, played a role in improving global health, including guinea worm eradication in Africa. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said, the U.S. seeks “to help foreign citizens to better their own lives and to build their own nations and transform their own lives.”