Quirks and Quarks

Eradicating Guinea Worm

Guinea worm is a debilitating parasite that infects the poorest people, but it is now almost extinct.

A decades long effort to wipe out the parasite has almost reached its goal

A worm has emerged and is being slowly drawn from the patient's body. (Otis Historical Archives of the US National Museum of Health & Medicine)
The Guinea worm is a nasty, debilitating and damaging parasite that, thirty years ago, infected millions of people in twenty of the poorest countries in the world. Humans pick up the parasite from contaminated water, and it grows within the body to a meter-long worm, which eventually bursts out of the lower limbs, causing horrible discomfort, opening the body to infection, and spreading new larvae to further contaminate the environment.

But a coordinated program to eliminate the Guinea worm has, over the last decades, fought hard against this parasite, so that, in 2014, there were only slightly more than 100 cases isolated in four countries. 

Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben directs the Guinea Worm Eradication program at the Carter Center, the NGO which has been at the forefront of fighting the Guinea worm. He thinks that, with a little good fortune, another year or so may see the end of what's been called the quintessential "forgotten disease of forgotten people."

Related Links

- Carter Centre Guinea Worm Eradication Program
- UN World Health Organization Guinea Worm program
- BBC story
NPR interview with President Jimmy Carter