guinea worm


The biggest global health program you’ve never heard of – NTDs | 

Nigerian woman with long-term effects of the parasitic river blindness
Nigerian woman with long-term effects of the parasitic river blindness
Mike Urban

What if you could treat a poor person in Africa to cure or prevent seven horrible afflictions – river blindness, hookworm, elephantiasis, trachoma, snail fever and two other parasitic worm diseases – for only 50 cents?

Better yet, what if the drug industry could be compelled to give more than a billion of the planet’s poorest people worldwide life-saving and curative drugs for free?

Well, you can and they were.

One of the world’s biggest efforts aimed at fighting the most neglected diseases of poverty has been underway for a few years now. Chances are, you know very little about it – which may be thanks to this massive project getting launched in 2012 with an incredibly boring name, the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Uff da. The global health community desperately needs help with branding.

“It’s actually incredibly exciting,” said Julie Jacobson, a physician and program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I ran into Jacobson, whom I’ve known for many years and who always seems both happy and excited, when we were commuting in opposite directions via bicycle in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood a while ago. We didn’t actually collide, but I did make her stop to see what she was up to. Continue reading

NYTimes profiles a dragon slayer, Donald Hopkins, and his fight against guinea worm | 

A woman in Nigeria endures the painful extraction of Guinea worm
A woman in Nigeria endures the painful extraction of Guinea worm
Mike Urban,

The NY Times’ Don McNeil has done a great profile of a global health champion, Donald Hopkins – the man who has led the successful campaign to rid the world of one of nature’s most disturbing parasitic diseases.

Guinea worm. I’ve written about this disease many times, seen people afflicted with it and years ago met a woman who was Nigeria’s last case. Jimmy Carter, whose philanthropy the Carter Center has sponsored Hopkins’ work, was recently talking about guinea worm with comedian Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. This painful, debilitating disease used to afflict millions of people every year.

Thanks to Hopkins and the Carter Center, it’s today down to few hundred cases remaining in the Sudan.

Jimmy Carter talks about eradicating guinea worm on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show | 

Jimmy Carter shows up Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to talk about the Carter Center’s success at nearly eradicating guinea worm, a painful parasitic worm that used to afflict millions of people every year. Thanks to Carter’s team, there are now just hundreds of cases in South Sudan.

Ten years ago, I saw guinea worm in Nigeria. Here’s some of my earlier stories about the Carter Center’s work and Nigeria’s last case.

Endangered species: Guinea worm | 

Mike Urban,

A woman in Nigeria endures the painful extraction of Guinea worm

A flurry of reports lately have celebrated the potential end of one of the world’s most horrific human parasites, the Guinea worm. Here’s the latest such from The Guardian:

Guinea worm disease is reaching the end of its days. The parasitic infection, which has sickened millions, mostly in Asia and Africa, is on the verge of being done in not by sophisticated medicine but by aggressive public health efforts in some of the poorest and most remote parts of the world.

I’ve reported on this disease for many years and seen people afflicted by it – including the last Nigerian known to have had the parasite. You become a host to Guinea worm from drinking contaminated water, which allows it to eat its way through your body over a year’s time – as it grows to several feet in length.

It doesn’t kill you, but its painful course through your body might make you wish were dead.

Some might think this an interesting but minor accomplishment given the other health needs of the developing world, but it’s more important than it appears. The elimination of Guinea worm from poor farming communities in Africa and Asia translates into more productive communities, not to mention the broader benefit of improved water quality. And it was largely done through educating people on a shoestring budget, mostly led by the Carter Center, rather than using some new vaccine or drug.

Guinea worm looks to be the second human disease, after smallpox, to get wiped off the planet (followed soon — or perhaps preceded — by polio, many hope). This is a great accomplishment. For those who aren’t so sure, those who want to preserve the balance of nature and respect all life, here’s a place for you — Save the Guinea Worm Foundation

How Jimmy Carter became a serpent slayer and global health pioneer | 

Tom Paulson

President Jimmy Carter speaks at World Affairs Council 60th Anniversary event

Former President Jimmy Carter is in Seattle, having spoken last night at the World Affairs Council’s 60th anniversary celebration and speaking today at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about Guinea worm.

Mike Urban,

A Nigerian woman with Guinea Worm

Guinea worm is a human parasite that eats its way through the human body and emerges a year later, incapacitating people with the pain of completing its life cycle. It’s horrible.

I’ve seen people with Guinea worm in Africa. Over the years, I’ve also seen what Jimmy Carter and his team at the Carter Center have done to come close now to completely ridding the world of this horrific disease.

It’s a great story, and perhaps of much broader significance to global health than many might realize.

Earlier this week, the Gates Foundation, major pharmaceutical companies and others announced a major $$785 million push against “neglected tropical diseases.” This was celebrated by Bill Gates, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan and others as a critical turning point in global health. The Carter Center got some of the loot, $40 million of it, to finish off Guinea worm.

But in one sense, this push against neglected diseases got a good first shove nearly 30 years ago by Jimmy Carter. One look at the Carter Center’s website shows they got to this point, of recognizing the need to fight neglected diseases, decades ago.

Diseases like river blindness, Guinea worm, parasitic (lymphatic) elephantiasis and schistosomiasis have been in Carter’s cross hairs since the mid-1980s. Continue reading

Guinea Worm in Nigeria, 2001 | 

In 2001, photographer Mike Urban and I went to Nigeria as part of a report we did for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the early days of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation global health program.

One of the world’s biggest health problems is dirty water. One of the most horrific illnesses you can get from drinking dirty water is guinea worm, aka dracunculiasis. We visited a village where Carter Center health workers combined treatment of the affliction with prevention education and water supply improvement projects.

Here’s a link to the story on guinea worm we did back then and a slide show of Mike’s photos:

Grace: Nigeria’s last case of guinea worm | 

After my first visit to Nigeria in 2001, when I saw more than my fair share of guinea worm infections, I returned to Nigeria for a book project I claimed to be working on. It was 2009 and I was a freelancer.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I asked the Carter Center if I could go meet the last person — a woman named Grace Otubo — to have guinea worm in Nigeria. After a long and frequently bumpy drive from Abuja, we arrived at the village of Ezza Nkwubor, outside of Enugu.

Based on the greeting I received, I think they must have assumed I was someone more important.

Here, in their own words, and song, they celebrate no longer having guinea worm to deal with. They still have health problems, emphasizing that they still need basic health services such as maternal and child care. They still deal with malaria and pneumonia. But they do have one thing to get up and dance about. I later decided I had to join in the dancing, but deleted that part from the video:

Gates initiative on “neglected diseases” advances cause, but neglects key questions | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced, together with more than a dozen drug makers and others, a new initiative aimed at fighting a select group of mostly developing world ailments called “neglected tropical diseases” such as river blindness, parasitic elephantiasis and others.

Uniting to Combat NTDs

These diseases affect an estimated 1.4 billion people, killing perhaps half a million a year, but have not been high on the global health radar screen. As Dr. Peter Hotez writes for Huffington Post, for only 50 cents per child many of these diseases may now be eliminated.

The new public-private initiative aims to rid the world of 10 of these diseases by 2020.

It’s widely regarded as a positive step forward for global health, but there are some important questions that went unanswered:

  1. What is a neglected disease? This is actually a hotly debated question in global health circles right now.
  2. Many think the solution to fighting diseases of poverty should be to focus on poverty as much as on disease. Will this initiative get at the root problem or just address symptoms?

We’ll get back to the neglected issues of neglected diseases in a bit. First, more on the news:

For this initiative called the London Declaration on Neglected Diseases, the Gates Foundation pledged $363 million to support research into new treatments. Drug makers like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Johnson & Johnson and others have likewise pledged to step up research as well as to expand donation programs of medications to poor countries.

Others involved in the initiative include the World Bank, the United Arab Emirates as well as the U.S. and U.K. governments The total estimated commitment is $785 million. Continue reading