The eradication of Guinea worm disease remains in sight with only 13 provisional human cases reported worldwide in 2023, The Carter Centre announced Thursday. The number matches the lowest annual total of human cases ever reported, following 13 cases in 2022 and 15 in 2021, according to the Carter Centre.
In a statement by the Carter Centre on Thursday, it noted that when it assumed leadership of the global Guinea Worm Eradication Programme in 1986, an estimated 3.5 million human cases occurred annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.
“Eradicating Guinea worm disease and the suffering it causes has long been a dream of my grandparents, and they have worked incredibly hard to make it a reality,” said Jason Carter, Carter Centre board chair and eldest grandson of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the late First Lady Rosalynn Carter. “They witnessed firsthand how this work improves the lives of millions of people, and The Carter Centre will keep working with our partners until there are zero cases.”
Reported infections in animals rose modestly, from 685 in 2022 to 713 in 2023. Adam Weiss, the Centre’s Guinea Worm Eradication Program director, attributed the increase to expanded surveillance and reporting in Angola and Cameroon.
“A single worm can cause 80 or more new cases the following year, and last year major outbreaks were prevented,” said Weiss. “These numbers underscore the grit and determination of the impacted countries to reach the finish line. The Carter Centre remains focused because zero is the goal and every case is a person who deserves to live a life free of this horrific disease.”
All figures for humans and animals are provisional until officially confirmed, typically in March. Guinea worm is poised to become the second human disease in history to be eradicated, following smallpox, as well as the first parasitic disease and the first without a medicine or vaccine. Community-based and innovative behavioural change and local mobilization are the key drivers of success.
“The national programs continue to step up to tackle this debilitating disease,” said Dr. Kashef Ijaz, the Carter Centre’s vice president of health. “They are implementing health education efforts, tracking down thousands of rumors to confirm or rule out Guinea worm cases, and caring for those affected, often in the most challenging environments. It’s truly heroic work.”
Case and Infection Numbers by Country
Nine of the 13 provisional human cases reported in 2023 occurred in Chad, two in South Sudan and one each in Cameroon and Mali. Ethiopia reported zero human cases. A 2023 specimen from the Central African Republic is under investigation and requires testing, which is protocol for all specimens from a human. If testing confirms Guinea worm, the case investigation will continue to explore its origins.
The worms that infect animals are the same species (Dracunculus medinensis) as those that infect humans; therefore, eradication requires stopping infections in both. While Guinea worm infections in animals rose 4% globally in 2023, Chad reduced canine Guinea worm infections by 22%, its fourth consecutive year of progress. In 2023, Chad reported infections in 494 animals, Mali reported 47, Cameroon 97, Angola 73, Ethiopia one, and South Sudan one.
As in past years, people in endemic countries received cash rewards for reporting possible Guinea worms in 2023. Health workers meticulously investigated all such rumors, which are key to finding actual cases and infections.
Additional case and infection details can be found in the Guinea Worm Wrap-Up, a joint U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, and Carter Centre-drafted update, which is circulated nearly a dozen times a year. CDC is the WHO Collaborating Centre for Dracunculiasis Eradication.