Imagine that, one day, you develop a blister on your foot. After a few more days, the blister bursts, causing excruciating pain. You are unable to walk on the foot. The lesion persists for more than a month before finally going away, and the pain finally subsides. A few months later, a similar blister and lesion develops, causing you to be completely bedridden and idle for months.
This, the Guinea worm infection, is the situation that thousands of people in Africa face each year. It is caused by the nematode Dracunculus medinensis, which uses humans as its primary host. Since it temporarily cripples its victim, it has disastrous effects on the productivity of the areas it is endemic in. Fortunately, health workers are currently working on procedures involving the eradication of the worm. Even though the disease has been described as early as the second century BC in ancient Greek texts, many believe that eradication is at hand. A look at both the life cycle of the worm and at past intervention efforts reveals why.
The life cycle of D. medinensis is not as complicated as that of some other parasites, such as malaria. The larvae freely swim in fresh water and infect microscopic arthropods called copepods. Within two or three weeks of being infected, the copepod dies along with the larva inside.
[...] After much consideration and diplomacy, the issue was resolved with some skillful negotiation on Carter's part. He made agreements with local officials to hold off the war for six months. During this time, medical officials could enter safely and implement their eradication efforts for Guinea worm and intervention efforts for other diseases. Carter's negotiation was a success. He managed to achieve the longest cease-fire in the Sudanese war, giving a jump start to eradication efforts in the area. Since the end of the war in 2005, eradication efforts have picked up rapidly and Sudan is well on its way to being clear of the disease. [...]
[...] Eradication of Guinea worm is a particularly attractive prospect for medical officials, as not only will it be the second disease eradicated on earth, but also the first eradicated without drugs or vaccines. The eradication effort has come a long way since it started in 1986, with reported cases being down and it is hoped that this success will continue until the disease is gone. As Dr. Ernesto Ruiz- Tiben, the current Director of the Guinea worm Eradication Program says, “Hopefully Guinea worm will be the first ever parasitic [...]
[...] medinensis cannot live for more than three weeks inside a copepod host. It must find a human if it wishes to reproduce. Thus, it was quickly identified by Jimmy Carter and his Carter Center as a viable target for eradication efforts. In 1986, The Carter Center, a foundation headed by Jimmy Carter, President at the time, partnered with organizations such as WHO in an attempt to eradicate Guinea worm. At the time, the disease was endemic to twenty countries and had some 3.5 million cases annually. [...]
[...] In the dilapidated areas which this worm is endemic in, this water is as likely as not to be the local drinking water supply. When this happens, the adult worm happily releases million of eggs into the water. The eggs then hatch and release larvae, and the cycle begins anew. Due to the worm's crippling nature, it has devastating effects on the economic status of affected areas. The worm occurs in areas that are already underdeveloped and extremely poor. When people are affected by the worm, they are unable to work. This does nothing to improve the economic status of the affected country. [...]
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