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Report: Guinea Worm Disease Cases Drop Despite COVID-19 Restrictions

FILE - A Nigerian teen demonstrates one technique for filtering water to remove water fleas that carry Guinea worm larva in this 2005 file photo.
FILE - A Nigerian teen demonstrates one technique for filtering water to remove water fleas that carry Guinea worm larva in this 2005 file photo.

Human Guinea worm cases in six African countries dropped to 27 in 2020, about 50% less than what was recorded the year before, despite COVID-19 challenges, the Carter Center announced Tuesday.

Animal cases fell by 20% over the same period.

“The numbers we are seeing are very encouraging,” said Jason Carter, chair of the center’s board of trustees.

In Chad, cases dropped to 36 from the 48 recorded in 2019 — the most significant decline for a single nation.

The central African country’s significant decline in cases was attributed to “recommitted country and community efforts, innovation, and aggressive, science-based interventions,” said Dr. Kashef Ijaz, Carter Center vice president of health programs.

Although these figures are only provisional, Ijaz said the dramatic reductions may be an early indication that a corner is being turned in the most Guinea worm-endemic country.”

Ethiopia recorded 11 cases, while South Sudan, Angola, Mali and Cameroon recorded one case each.

The reduction in cases comes on the back of an overwhelmed public health system worldwide due to the coronavirus.

“In contrast, the Guinea Worm Eradication Program is not dependent on the delivery of pharmaceuticals because there is no vaccine or medicine to treat the disease,” said the Carter Center press release, which also credited a community-centered approach to dealing with the disease.

“I have been so impressed with the way entire communities in every country where we work to embrace the responsibility for safeguarding their own health,” said Adam Weiss, director of the center’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program.

“People who live in the villages are the heart of the program,” he added. “Foreigners like me are a very small part of the operation.”

Out of the program’s 1,026 employees, 1,000 are Chadian. The program also enjoys the services of nearly the same number of volunteers in the villages.

These volunteers and community staff members, along with creating awareness through education, also monitor for “infections, filtering drinking water, and protecting water sources from contamination.”

Foreign staff in Guinea worm-endemic areas research, coordinate and train local staff.

Guinea worm disease is an ancient disease that disables victims. It is “usually contracted when people consume water contaminated with tiny crustaceans (called copepods) that carry Guinea worm larvae,” the statement said.

In animals, dogs are the most affected, with more than 1,500 recorded cases in Chad, Ethiopia, and Mali, followed by domestic and wild cats, as well as baboons, according to the 2020 figures.

The Atlanta-based Carter Center, founded in 1982 by former President Jimmy Carter, focuses on neglected tropical diseases for human and animal infections.