Today, more than 400 million people no longer need treatment for NTDs, and 300 million of them no longer need treatment for LF. Back in 1986, there were 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm disease – in 2016, there were just 25. Plenty of these diseases, although not directly fatal to the afflicted, can still kill the hosts, but the deaths have decreased from 204,000 worldwide in 1990 to 142,000 as of 2013 – a 30 percent drop.
“For every one of these, the trend is down. Less people are suffering from every single one of these diseases,” Gates points out. “Our understanding is dramatically better today than it was five years ago. This is global health at its best.”
As remarkable as all this progress seems, Gates told us that “it’s pretty much what we expected.”
“There was a view in 2012 that you could get it all done by 2020. When we did the mapping, and we realized how much work needed to be done…well, some of them, we will be done by 2025, if we continue to do a really good job.”
“We haven’t met every ambitious objective we’ve set, but in every disease, the burden is down, the number of countries affected is down… assuming the donor commitment maintains strong, particularly from our two biggest donors – the US and the UK – then we’re on track.”
Speaking of which, governments and private donors have just pledged an additional $812 million in order to boost the efforts of the London Declaration at the Geneva summit.
The removal of a Guinea worm. The Carter Center
As well as demonstrating to governments and donors that their efforts are paying off, raising awareness with the general public is also a key feature of the Geneva summit.
“If you’re infected by the loa loa parasite, you have so many worms that swim in your blood that if you put a drop of blood on a slide, the blood can move,” Jacobson explains.
“Guinea worm is pretty horrific too,” she adds. “You know, pulling a three-foot-long worm slowly out of your flesh, and painfully… you know, no one wants to have that.” As there is no vaccine or drug available that can treat this, the Foundation focuses on a decidedly cost-effective, low-tech solution.
“Guinea worm is the poster child for zero technology. You just take a matchstick, and you start to slowly roll the worm out over what could be weeks. Our technology, I guess, is a matchstick.”
“We try not to gross people out too much,” Gates notes. “But the best way for people to understand the scale of these diseases is to visit the countries themselves.”