The Guinea worm disease soon will be relegated to the history books, thanks to The Carter Center’s ongoing eradication program and new donations from Bill and Melinda Gates and the president of the United Arab Emirates announced today.
When The Carter Center began spearheading an international campaign to eradicate the horrific disease in 1986 there were more than three million cases in 21 countries. After 25 years, the total number of cases is just 1,060 — most occurring in South Sudan, Mali, and Ethiopia.
$40 million in new donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation will enable The Carter Center to end Guinea worm disease by 2015.
Guinea worm disease afflicts the world’s poorest and most isolated communities. Also known as dracunculiasis, the disease is contracted when people consume water contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. After a year, one or more worms up to a meter long can emerge through painful blisters in the skin. The ancient disease is being wiped out through simple, cost-effective measures, including health education to teach people to filter all drinking water and stay out of water sources when they, themselves, are contaminated with the disease. There are no vaccines or medicines to prevent or treat this painful parasitic disease.
The new grants, along with $31 million committed by the United Kingdom in October, will fund the final Carter Center interventions against remaining cases of the disease, which are found in poverty-stricken areas with little infrastructure, near zones of conflict, or among nomadic populations — as well as surveillance to certify its eradication over three years once transmission is halted in all nations.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said, “Millions of people in Africa and Asia will no longer risk suffering one of the most horrific human diseases ever known thanks to the generosity and global health leadership of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the UAE, and the United Kingdom.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a long-standing partner in the fight, investing more than $100 million in the effort to date and inspiring an outpouring of contributions over the past four years from the donor community through the Foundation’s 2008 challenge grant of $32 million. Today’s contribution is $23.3 million.
One of the first to join the international campaign against Guinea worm disease, His Highness the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the United Arab Emirates, invested significant resources in the 1990s on behalf of the UAE to help launch the Guinea Worm Eradication Program. This early investment enabled the program, based at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga., to establish global operations against Guinea worm disease. Building on the late Sheikh’s legacy is new support from His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE. The UAE pledged $10 million toward today’s donations.
The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, pledged $6.7 million today in its continuing effort to improve the lives of children living in poverty.
The last cases of any disease are the most challenging to wipe out, but the new funding will likely rid us of the last vestiges of Guinea worm disease.