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Guinea Worm Eradication Target Set for 2009

The global campaign to eradicate the debilitating Guinea worm disease continues, with hopes for eliminating it by 2009. Four countries ended transmission of the disease in 2007. Gilbert da Costa attended a ceremony in Abuja to honor the world's latest Guinea worm-free countries and filed this report for VOA.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who is leading the campaign, says the 22-year international Guinea worm eradication effort has recorded phenomenal success with fewer than 10,000 cases reported in 2007 - the least number of cases ever reported.

Attention is now focused on Sudan and Ghana, considered the most endemic countries. Sudan reported more than 5,000 cases of Guinea worm in 2007, the highest by any country. But this also represents a 50 percent reduction from the previous year.

Sudanese Health Minister Tabita Shokai says Sudan is confident of meeting the 2009 Guinea worm eradication deadline.

"A lot has been done in the eradication of Guinea worm from the Sudan. It has been eradicated completely in the north," said Shokai. "South Sudan has done very well as well, after the comprehensive peace agreement and there are so many volunteers trained and people are all aware about Guinea worm, how to eradicate it, how to access clean water. And I believe we are very much committed to meet the target of 2009, to be cleared of Guinea worm."

Guinea worm disease is a parasitic infection that affects people living in remote poverty-stricken communities. The disease is contracted when people consume water contaminated with infected larvae. After a year, a one-meter-long worm emerges from the body through a painful blister it creates in the skin.

Four countries, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Togo reported an end to the parasitic infection in 2007, bringing to 15 the number of countries that have completed eradication.

Nigeria, once the most Guinea worm-endemic in the world with more than 650,000 cases in 1989, had only 73 cases in 2007.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter paid tribute to the commitment and hard work of those whose efforts made the historic success possible. He said there were many that said it would never be done, but through strong international partnerships and support, Guinea worm eradication is on the horizon.