Guinea Worm – Set To Become The Second Human Disease To Be Eradicated

Guinea worm disease, or dracunculiasis, is a parasitic infection. It is contracted by drinking water containing fleas that have ingested the larvae of Dracunculus medinensis, a nematode worm. Its debilitating effects prevent people from working, farming and caring for their children, literally halting community productivity.  

February 8, 2007. Savelugu Hospital, Northern Province, Ghana. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn address Savelugu children on the seriousness of eradicating guinea worm disease. In this photo he has said "Hands up all those who have had Guinea Worm" and many of the children put up their hands.

Guinea Worm: The Facts

Through tireless public health efforts by The Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn, Guinea worm is set to become only the second disease in human history after smallpox and the first parasitic disease to be eliminated from the world. It will be the first disease to be eradicated without the use of a vaccine or medical treatment.


Worldwide cases of Guinea worm disease have already been reduced by more than 99 percent. In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 20 countries across Africa and Asia. In 2020, there were 27 (provisional) cases reported in just five African countries - South Sudan, Mali, Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia. Furthermore, the World Bank estimates that the return on investment in Guinea worm eradication will be nearly 29 percent per year once the disease is completely eliminated.


Since 1988, BASF has been working with The Carter Center to support the Guinea Worm Eradication Program by providing more than $4 million worth of Abate® larvicide. In 2012, BASF extended its pledge of support to include the Center's River Blindness Program in Uganda.  


Symptoms and treatment

There is no known curative medicine or vaccine to prevent Guinea worm disease. It incapacitates its victims for extended periods of time making them unable to work or grow enough food to feed their families or attend school. In the human body, the Guinea worm larvae mate. The male worms die and the female worms grow up to a meter-long. They move through the person’s subcutaneous tissue and eventually emerge through the skin, usually at the feet, producing oedema, a blister and eventually an ulcer, sometimes accompanied by fever, nausea, and vomiting. The contamination cycle continues when victims, seeking relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging Guinea worm, immerse the affected part of their body in sources of drinking water, thus stimulating the worm to release tens of thousands of larvae into the water and begin the cycle all over again.


Traditional removal of a Guinea worm consists of winding the worm, some up to 3 feet (1 meter) long, around a small stick and manually extracting it - a slow, painful process that often takes weeks. The skin lesions often develop secondary bacterial infections, which exacerbate the suffering and prolong the period of disability.  


Vital to stopping the spread of the disease is educating communities about prevention methods e.g. preventing infected people from entering sources of drinking water and filtering the tiny water fleas carrying infective larvae out of drinking water.


Source: World Health Organization