In 1986, there were more than 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm worldwide, and the disease was endemic in almost 24,000 villages across 21 Asian and African countries. Now, thanks to three decades of hard work, there are only 126 cases left, the Carter Center announced this week during a new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History called "Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease." Furthermore, only it is now only endemic in 30 villages in four countries, all of which are in Africa. If this trend continues, dracunculiasis will soon become the first parasitic disease to be eradicated, and the first to be eliminated without vaccines or medicine.
Dracunculiasis is an ideal candidate for eradication because it is only transmitted by one route, and if this can be interrupted, infection can be stopped. The strategy was therefore a simple one: educate villagers in affected areas and distribute cheap filters that people can use to eliminate the parasites from drinking water. The devices consisted of cheap plastic tubes fitted with a steel mesh filter that can be carried around and used anywhere. $100 rewards were also offered to people who reported cases of the disease, which is a huge amount in many villages.
L.Gubb/The Carter Center
While eradication seems within our grasp, there is still plenty of work to be done, and many of the remaining cases are in rural or challenging areas affected by conflict.