Sunday, August 23, 2015

Carter's role in eliminating a disease in Africa

Medical progress is often wonderful to behold.   One wonder is that the one-time dreaded and highly infectious disease, smallpox, has been eradicated from the entire world -- as in zero cases, for years now.  There was even a controversy a few years ago about whether the lab stock of the bacteria should also be destroyed.   But a small supply is needed to make the vaccine, in case the disease should crop up again.

The other side of that wonder is that smallpox is the only disease that has been completely eliminated.   It's not an easy thing to do.  But Jimmy Carter has been the leader in the Carter Center's 29 year project that has very nearly eliminated another dreaded disease:   the Guinea worm infestation that devastated villages in Africa.

The Carter Center spearheaded, under President and Mrs. Carter's personal leadership, a very simple method of cheap filters that screened out the worms from drinking water.  Much credit also goes to the dedicated public health teams that educated the people and spread the method.

Here is President Carter's own description:
"It's a despicable disease. And it was in such remote villages that no one wanted to take on the task. So we decided to take it on. We started in 1986 and we've been going at it ever since. Twenty-six thousand five hundred villages were affectedand [the Carter Center] has been to every one of them."
Such a simple, inexpensive method, based on one basic health principle -- clean drinking water -- plus a lot of educating and determination.  But that's all it took.   Not expensive lab equipment and years of research.   A simple man who saw some good that could be accomplished for so many people in a needy continent.

The result?   In the beginning, there were 3.6 million people infected with these worms that grow inside the body up to three feet long, and then they slowly emerge through painful lesions on any part of the body.     With these simple water filters in place, and educating people not to drink unfiltered water -- the latest report found only 11 known cases in the whole world.   3,600,000 cases down to 11.

When asked to name something he hoped to see before he dies, Carter flashed his familiar grin and said, "I want the last Guinea worm to die before I do."

Thank you, from the world, Mr. Carter.


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