Since 1986, the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter, has been leading the international campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease. The program has been such a success that Guinea worm disease is set to become only the second disease completely eradicated from the world (after smallpox) and the first to be stopped without the use of a vaccine or other medicine.
To discuss this work, Carter will make a rare address to House of Lords of the British Parliament on Wednesday, Feb. 3. After the talk, he will take questions vita Twitter. People are encouraged to submit questions via Twitter to #askJimmyCarter, his office said.
There were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm disease annually in 1986, when the Carter Center started working against the disease. There were just 22 cases reported last year.
Guinea worm disease, also called dracunculiasis, is caused by the roundworm parasite Dracunculus medenisis. It is contracted when people drink stagnant water that is contaminated with Guinea worm larvae. When larvae are consumed, they mate and the female worms mature and grow in the human abdomen. A year later, the female Guinea worm, which grows to more than a yard long, creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges. The worm is sometimes removed slowly by winding it around a stick or piece of gauze, a process that can take weeks.
Guinea worm sufferers may try to ease the burning sensation caused by the emerging worm by submerging their limbs in water, but this contact with water causes the worm to release its larvae into the water, which begins the cycle of infection all over again. Guinea worm is a particularly devastating disease that makes people unable to care for themselves, work, grow food, or attend school for long periods of time.
The Carter Center has created education programs that teach people to filter water before drinking it and to prevent transmission of the parasites by keeping the worms from entering water sources.
Carter announced in December that he is cancer free after receiving treatment for liver cancer that had spread to his brain. He is 91 years old.