Emory Report
April 2, 2007
Volume 59, Number 25

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April 2, 2007
Carter visits recipients of Carter Center’s health work in Africa

Meryl Bailey is the communications coordinator for The Carter Center’s health programs.

During a visit to the parched community of Savelugu, Ghana, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter comforted crying 6-year-old Ruhama Issah as a health worker removed a long, spaghetti-like Guinea worm from her swollen ankle, rolling it inch by inch around a piece of gauze. In February — the peak of dry season in northern Ghana — Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, visited the sweltering hospital to meet with dozens of Guinea worm disease patients receiving care in a national effort to eradicate the disease by this time next year.

The founders of The Carter Center led a delegation of Center officials to Ghana to bring global attention to Guinea worm disease, a 3,000-year-old scourge on the verge of extinction. Savelugu was the first stop in a 16-day tour of Carter Center-assisted health programs in remote communities of four African nations: Ghana, Sudan, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

In Ghana, Carter met with President John Agyekum Kufuor to discuss the country’s continued efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease. Ghana is the second-most endemic country in the world, second only to war-torn Sudan. Nearly half of affected Ghanaians are children younger than age 15 such as Issah, who is temporarily debilitated by the excruciating pain caused by the exiting worm.

The Carter Center spearheads the international Guinea worm eradication campaign, which has reduced cases by more than 99.5 percent since 1986. As cases are reduced, children once disabled by the disease can return to school and farmers to their fields.

Following his visit to Ghana, Carter met Lions Clubs International President Jimmy Ross in Sudan to encourage the local community leaders in Khartoum’s new local Lions Club to participate in the fight against two blinding diseases affecting the country — river blindness and trachoma. Lions Clubs International has been involved with blindness prevention and treatment for more than 80 years. In partnership with Lions Clubs International, The Carter Center has been helping to eliminate river blindness and control trachoma for more than a decade through the Lions Clubs International Foundation’s SightFirst programs.

In Afeta, Ethiopia, farmer Mamo Tesfaye was one of the millions of people in the remote areas of the country to receive an insecticide-treated long-lasting bed net to protect his family from malaria. The bed net distribution is part of a new Carter Center initiative to provide 3 million bed nets to Ethiopia’s malaria program. Tesfaye also received annual treatments of Mectizan to treat river blindness, distributed by Ethiopia’s Carter Center-assisted River Blindness Program and donated by Merck and Co. Inc.

In the dusty community of Nasarawa North, Nigeria, Carter and Nigeria’s former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon, a champion for health care advocacy in his home country, watched as school children received drug treatment for schistosomiasis, a silent and destructive parasitic infection that leads to poor growth and impaired learning. The Carter Center works with Nigeria’s Ministry of Health to provide health education and drug treatment annually to thousands of people at risk of infection. During the visit, Carter met with Nigerian President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo to request further governmental support to help Carter Center-assisted programs combat schistosomiasis and other neglected diseases. Nigeria was the delegation’s final stop before returning to Atlanta.

For 25 years The Carter Center has maintained a strong commitment to building hope in some of the world’s most isolated communities. The Carter Center’s health programs have prevented suffering for millions of people in 32 countries. These individuals have benefited from reduced risk of neglected diseases such as Guinea worm, river blindness, trachoma, schistosomiasis and lymphatic filariasis. By assisting countries to provide education, awareness and distribution of prevention and treatment supplies, hope for a healthier, disease-free future is possible.