Guinea worm disease in South Sudan has been brought to a halt, says the country’s health minister.
Dr. Riek Gai Kok made the announcement Wednesday at the Carter Center headquarters in the southern U.S. state of Georgia, noting zero cases of Guinea worm disease have been reported in the country for the past 15 months.
“We don’t have the illusion that the job is finished,” Kok said. “We are not going to be complacent, we are going to redouble our efforts to step up our surveillance programs.”
Health workers began a campaign to eradicate Guinea worm disease in southern Sudan in 2005 after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan and South Sudan.
South Sudan’s health minister says the accomplishment would not have been possible without the partnership between South Sudan’s health ministry and the Carter Center, named after former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, which the minister credits with setting up infrastructures and programs to rid the country of the disease.
“And to us as South Sudanese, we feel we have contributed to the common cause of humanity, of our day today, that we have played our part of realizing that dream of eradicating and ridding the world of this debilitating disease called the Guinea worm,” Kok said.
Guinea worm disease is contracted when people drink contaminated water that has the Guinea worm larve, which then grows inside the host’s body. Eventually, the adult female erupts through the person’s skin, causing painful blisters.
Over 20,000 cases of Guinea worm were reported in southern Sudan in 2006. By 2016, the number of cases had fallen to six.
The Carter Center says community-based interventions, including educating people on the disease and promoting the use of filtered water, helped eradicate the disease in South Sudan.
Guinea worm disease is believed to be nearing complete eradication. Chad and Ethiopia were the only other countries that reported Guinea worm cases in 2017.