Former President Jimmy Carter is known for his incredible humanitarian efforts across the world, earning a Presidential Medal of Honor and a Nobel Prize for his “decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”
He can now add eliminating a disease to his long list of accomplishments. When the Carter Center began its quest to end Guinea worm disease in 1986, there were 3.5 million cases across Africa. By the end of 2015, there were only 22 cases in twenty villages across West Africa, putting it on a clear course to be the second disease to be entirely eradicated from the world, the first being smallpox. Conflicts in Mali and South Sudan are hampering efforts to fully complete the task, but it is only a matter of time before the vile affliction is gone from our world.
“As we get closer to zero, each case takes on increasing importance. Full surveillance must continue in the few remaining endemic nations and neighboring countries until no cases remain to ensure the disease does not return,” said Carter. “The Carter Center and our partners are committed to seeing that this horrible parasitic disease never afflicts future generations.”
Guinea worm disease is a horrifying malady that is contracted through unclean drinking water, and its effects are gruesome:
Inside a human’s abdomen, Guinea worm larvae mate and female worms mature and grow. After about a year of incubation, the female Guinea worm, one meter long, creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body. Guinea worm sufferers may try to seek relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging worm and immerse their limbs in water sources, but this contact with water stimulates the emerging worm to release its larvae into the water and begin the cycle of infection all over again.
Through the efforts of the Carter Center, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, over 80 million infections have been prevented and the prevalence of the disease cut by 99.99%. The amount of good that our former President has done in the world cannot be quantified, but his work and and relentless drive to helping others have uplifted the lives of millions of people. He is a true American hero, a man of saintly virtue, compassion and generosity.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.