The Carter Center said Tuesday that only 13 human cases of Guinea worm disease were reported worldwide last year.
After decades of progress, the director of the eradication program has warned that the final phase of the global effort to eradicate the parasitic disease will be “the most difficult”.
The Atlanta-based center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Eleanor Rosalynn Carter, said the remaining infections have occurred in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Six human cases have been reported in Chad, five in South Sudan, one in Ethiopia and one in the Central African Republic, which is still under investigation.
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That’s a significant drop from when former President Carter began leading the global eradication effort in 1986, when the disease infected 3.5 million people.
The figures, which are provisional, should be confirmed in the coming months.
“We’re really in the middle of that last mile and seeing firsthand that it’s going to be a very long and arduous last mile,” Adam Weiss, director of the Carter Center Guinea Worm Eradication Program, told The Associated Press. . “Not as long as it will take more than the next seven years – five to seven years – but just knowing that it will be a slow roll to get to zero.”
Guinea worm affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world and can be prevented by teaching people to filter and drink clean water.
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People who drink unsafe water can ingest parasites that can grow up to 3 feet. The worm incubates in humans for up to a year before painfully emerging, often through the feet or other sensitive parts of the body.
Weiss said populations where Guinea worm still exists are prone to local insecurity, including conflict, which can prevent staff and volunteers from going house-to-house to implement interventions or offer A support.
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“If we take our foot off the accelerator trying to accelerate getting to zero and providing support to these communities, there’s no doubt you’re going to see an increase in Guinea worm,” Weiss said. “We continue to make progress, even if it’s not as fast as we all would like, but this progress continues.”
Guinea worm is on the verge of being the second human disease to be eradicated after smallpox, according to the Carter Center.