Jimmy Carter, Sudan, peace and the guinea worm

Former President Jimmy Carter is among the foreign notables — George Clooney, Sen. John Kerry, Enough‘s John Prendergast — in Sudan doing election watch duty as the southern half of Africa’s largest country appears likely to vote itself into becoming the world’s newest nation.

He’s also in Sudan because of a really awful parasitic worm.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8MuWHjuyCA

Carter’s been quoted in various media throughout this week, on the need for a fair, meaningful and safe referendum. In this report from Al-jazeera, the former president predicts the result will be for independence.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times even hosted a lengthy Q&A with Carter from Sudan, an example of real-time journalistic engagement with readers (which was good in concept but, frankly, tedious to read).

Still, it is not always politics that brings Carter to the Sudan.

Sometimes it’s a three-foot long parasitic worm that takes a year to eat its way through the human body. Guinea Worm.

Nigerian woman undergoing guinea worm extraction
Mike Urban

Sudan is one of the last places on the planet where this terrible, debilitating disease of poverty persists. The Carter Center has, for 20 years, been leading the fight to eradicate this parasite.

As a reporter on assignment in Nigeria a decade ago, I saw people afflicted with this painful parasite. Thanks to the Carter Center’s decades of work educating communities, guinea worm appears to have been eliminated from Nigeria.

I returned to Nigeria last year, to meet the woman who had the last known case of guinea worm. I’ll post tomorrow about how this was accomplished, and why it matters beyond ridding the world of this one disease.

Tonight, at 7 p.m. in the University of Washington’s Kane Hall, room 120, you can see for yourself what the fight against guinea worm is all about with the Seattle screening of “The Fiery Serpent.”

This powerful, and disturbing, prize-winning documentary focuses on the last likely battle for eradication in Sudan. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr. Don Hopkins of the Carter Center and other leaders of this amazing project.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.