Guinea worm disease is an ancient parasitic ailment that rarely makes headlines. But it is so debilitating that its effects reach far beyond a single victim. The pain it causes can be seen in the term often used for it -- the "fiery serpent." Guinea worm disease has been around for centuries, but today only a handful of countries report cases of the disease.

The US-based Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University. The center and its partners have played a central role in the eradication of Guinea worm from most parts of the world, including most of Africa. The center continues to concentrate on African countries that still have cases of Guinea worm -- Sudan, Ghana, and Mali.

Dr. Donald Hopkins is the Carter Center?s associate executive director. In an interview with Voice of America reporter Ashenafi Abedje, Dr. Hopkins attributes the success of the Guinea worm eradication program to several factors. ?The hard work by thousands of village volunteers, dedicated support and supervision by the public health establishments, funding by the Carter Center and other partner-donors like UNICEF and WHO, as well as tireless efforts by US and Japanese Peace Corps volunteers.?

Dr. Hopkins says the emergence of diseases like HIV/AIDS has diverted resources from less well-known ailments such as Guinea worm. ?There?s no question that as compared to the so-called big three, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, neglected tropical diseases such as Guinea worm has suffered. In addition, they have much of the attention of the ministries of health in endemic countries. This is for the simple reason they kill more people than Guinea worm.?

The medical expert says African health ministers have set December 2009 as the official target date for completing the eradication of Guinea worm in the remaining endemic countries.