Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

As president, he didn't really float my boat . . .

But Jimmy Carter has turned out to be an excellent former president. (And any self-styled "supporters of Israel" out there who feel otherwise can kiss my grits.) One most excellent undertaking of Mr. Carter's has been the eradication of Dracunculus medinensis, the Guinea worm, which causes the disease Dracunculiasis.

It is truly gross. Sayeth the WHO:

In the human body, the larvae are released and migrate through the intestinal wall into body tissues, where they develop into adult worms. The female worms move through the person’s subcutaneous tissue, causing intense pain, and eventually emerge through the skin, usually at the feet, producing oedema, a blister and eventually an ulcer, accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting.

And that is a long worm, actually crawling out of the person's body. People often try to relieve the pain by putting their feet in the river, where the larvae can be released to be eaten by water fleas and starting the cycle over. Fortunately, the organism requires the human host to complete its life cycle, which means that it can be eradicated by the brute force method of filtering water fleas from drinking water, killing the fleas with chemicals, and educating communities so that infected people do not allow the worms do not come into contact with bodies of water when they emerge.

In a remarkable public health success story, the worm has been eradicated from most of its former range and is now found in only Sudan, Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia. The bad news is of course that these areas are impoverished and remote, and Sudan in particular is politically chaotic. Nevertheless the campaign is continuing in these areas and succeeding. The Carter Center has been a major sponsor of the effort.

I got an e-mail from the producers of a film about this campaign, called Foul Water, Fiery Serpent, and they have posted substantial excerpts. By all means check it out. When this campaign finally succeeds and Dracunculus medinensis no longer exists, some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people will have a chance to build better lives.

1 comment:

kathy a. said...

wow, that's an amazing clip. and a pretty amazing public health story.

i have a soft spot for carter, who is courageous and follows his convictions in his quiet way, and has never minded getting his own hands dirty -- not in the media mudslinging way that is so popular, but in the "lemme get a shovel" kind of way. he has consistently shown he cares about all kinds of less fortunate people by going forth and doing good.