Emory Report
April 11, 2005
Volume 58, Number 26


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April 11, 2005
$25M pledge to wipe out Guinea worm

BY emily staub

The Carter Center announced April 5 that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $25 million to the center’s fight to eradicate the remaining cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide. The grant includes an initial $5 million contribution and challenges other donors to provide an additional $20 million, which the Gates Foundation will match one-to-one.

In response, already the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation have pledged $5 million and $1 million, respectively, joining with the center and the Gates Foundation to help make Guinea worm the first parasitic disease to be eradicated.

“Through their support, the Gates Foundation, CIDA and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation are demonstrating international leadership in the fight against unnecessary suffering in the developing world,” said former President Jimmy Carter. “The last cases of Guinea worm disease are the most crucial, difficult and expensive to contain. The new peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan and the recent Gates Foundation challenge grant will help us secure the remaining access and resources needed to finish the job. It will be a historic moment when, working together, the global community eradicates this 3,000-year-old disease.”

Guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis) is contracted when people consume stagnant water contaminated with microscopic water fleas carrying infective larvae. Inside a human’s abdomen, the larvae mature and grow, some reaching 3 feet in length. After a year, the worm slowly emerges through a painful blister in the skin, usually on the lower limbs. In highly endemic areas, infected people usually have more than one Guinea worm, in some cases dozens, emerging at once.

Today, through efforts of The Carter Center and its partners, Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.5 percent, from an estimated 3.5 million cases in 1986 to approximately 15,500 cases reported in 2004. The Carter Center and its partners teach people about the origin of the disease and how to prevent it, provide cloth filters and pipe filters to make water safe for drinking, and treat the symptoms and pain associated with the disease.

Since the center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program began in 1986, nine of the 20 endemic countries have broken transmission, and five of the remaining 11 endemic countries reported fewer than 100 cases in 2004. Guinea worm remains only in West Africa and Sudan. It will be the first disease eradicated without medicines or vaccines.

“Eradicating Guinea worm disease will improve the lives of millions for generations to come,” said Regina Rabinovich, director of the Gates Foundation’s Infectious Diseases program. “We’re pleased to support The Carter Center, whose success in fighting Guinea worm demonstrates the power of international collaboration to solve the health problems facing developing countries.”

The Canadian government, through CIDA, is one of the first to respond to the challenge with a grant of $5 million over five years. Through its programs, CIDA works to promote sustainable development in the poorest countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, while joining with partners worldwide to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. CIDA has supported the center’s efforts to wage peace and fight disease in Africa and the Americas since 1996.

“Canada has a strong history of support for global efforts to improve the health of the world’s citizens,” said Donald Bobiash, high commissioner of Canada to Ghana. “Ridding the world of Guinea worm is within our grasp.”

As intended by Conrad Hilton, the Hilton Foundation works to alleviate suffering of the world’s most disadvantaged, with an emphasis on children. For 14 years, the Hilton Foundation has partnered with The Carter Center to improve health throughout Africa, particularly Guinea worm eradication and the prevention and control of blinding trachoma.

“The Hilton Foundation is honored to be part of a positive effort to improve the lives of the most forgotten people,” said Steven Hilton, the foundation’s president.