When Guinea worm is eradicated, it will be the first disease to be removed from the planet without the use of a vaccine.
What is Guinea worm disease?
Guinea worm disease is a parasitic infection caused by the nematode roundworm parasite Dracunculus medinensis. It is contracted when people consume water from stagnant sources contaminated with the Guinea worm larvae. Inside a human’s abdomen, Guinea worm larvae mate and female worms mature and grow. After about a year of incubation, the Guinea worm, now three feet long, creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body. Guinea worm sufferers often seek relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging worm by immersing their limbs in water – this contact with water stimulates the emerging worm to release its larvae, contaminating the water source and beginning the cycle of infection all over again.
There is no drug to treat Guinea worm disease. Once the worm begins to emerge from a person’s body, the rest of the worm can only be pulled out a few centimeters each day by winding it around a piece of gauze or small stick. This process usually takes weeks. If the worm is not completely removed, or breaks during removal, it can cause intense inflammation, pain and swelling, and potential secondary bacterial infections and resulting complications. In addition to the intense pain, Guinea worm disease incapacitates people for extended periods of time, making them unable to care for themselves, work, grow food for their families or attend school.
LifeStraw and the Carter Center Partnership
In 1986, when the Carter Center began their work in the fight against Guinea worm disease, there were 3.5 million cases in roughly 21 countries. In 1994, LifeStraw partnered with the Carter Center to design a simple mesh filter to remove Guinea worm larvae from drinking water. At the time, there were more than 100,000 cases in 18 countries spanning Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. In 2020, LifeStraw donated 390,500 LifeStraw Guinea worm filters to the Carter Center for use in five countries. By the end of 2020, there were only 27 cases reported in six countries. Since the partnership’s inception, LifeStraw has provided the Carter Center with more than 38 million filters.