The Washington Post (sort of):
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.
To eliminate the parasite, which is found in drinking water, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have handed out straws with cloth filters, treated water sources with larvicide, have taught villagers how to avoid infection and have scoured the countryside for new cases.
As a result, the ailment, also known as dracunculiasis, is poised to become the second human disease (the first was smallpox) to be eradicated – and the first to be eliminated without the aid of a vaccine.
Guinea worm expert Donald Hopkins, who has been involved in the campaign for nearly three decades, calls the eradication effort “uniquely grassroots”.
Wonderful news and a fascinating story. If you don’t know Guinea work disease, it’s uniquely unpleasant:
The disease is transmitted through drinking water containing Guinea worm larvae. Once ingested, these larvae can grow for more than a year, reaching up to a metre in length.
The worm exits its host through an excruciating, burning blister, often in the leg or foot. When the victim bathes the blister in water to relieve the pain, the worm releases a new batch of eggs, restarting the cycle.
The only way to get rid of the worm is to wrap it around a stick and pull it out of the skin, inch by inch, over the course of hours to months.
I still remember watching a Guinea worm being slowly removed from a small boy’s midriff on Comic Relief as a child and being appalled that such horrors still existed in the world.
The fact that such a bottom-up approach to behaviour change has worked so effectively surely provides lessons for the spreading of bed nets, condom use, etc.
Hopkins praised South Sudan’s health ministry for “tightening the noose” on the last cases during its recovery from a long civil war. In July 2011, the country, which had just won its independence from Sudan, reported 794 cases of the illness. This July, the total was less than half that.
Remember that the next time you read an article about how terribly things have been going for the world’s newest nation.
The practice [of wrapping worms around a stick to extract them] is so ancient that many suspect it is the basis of the iconic staff and intertwined serpent of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing.
Well that’s just plain fascinating.