Guinea worm eradication efforts enter ‘last mile’ | Health news

The final years of the eradication effort, led by the US Carter Center, will be the ‘toughest’, says an expert.

Last year, only 13 human cases of Guinea worm were reported worldwide, according to the Carter Center in the United States.

After decades of progress, Adam Weiss, director of the Carter Center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program, 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 US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Eleanor Rosalynn Carter – said on Tuesday that 13 infections had occurred in four sub-Saharan African countries. 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.

That’s a significant drop from 1986, when former President Carter, 98, began leading global eradication efforts and the disease infected 3.5 million people.

The figures, which are provisional, are expected to be confirmed in the coming months.

“We’re really in the middle of that last mile and we’re experiencing firsthand that it’s going to be a very long and hard last mile,” Weiss told The Associated Press. “Not as much as it will take more than the next seven years — five to seven years — but just knowing that it’s going to be a slow turnaround to zero.”

Guinea worm affects some of the most vulnerable people in the world and can be prevented by training people to filter and drink clean water.

People who drink impure water can ingest parasites that can grow up to 1 meter (3 feet). The worms incubate 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 door-to-door to conduct interventions or offer support.

“If we take our foot off the gas in terms of trying to speed up getting down to zero and supporting those communities, there’s no question you’re going to see a guinea worm wave,” Weiss said. “We continue to make progress, even if it’s not as fast as we all want, but that progress continues.”

Guinea worm is poised to become the second human disease to be eradicated after smallpox, according to The Carter Center.

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