Guinea Worm in retreat in southern Sudan

This post is part of a special National Geographic news series on global water issues.

Decades of civil war in southern Sudan have hindered the population’s access to clean water and allowed some parasites to persist. But international efforts have made headway on one particular scourge: the Guinea worm.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has led a 20-year campaign to eradicate Guinea worm, a parasite that has plagued humans since biblical times.

“We will not stop the efforts of the Carter Center until there are no cases of Guinea worm left in southern Sudan or Ghana or Mali or Ethiopia. That’s the only places where we have a few cases left.

“We have been working on it now for more than 20 years. We have reduced it, the incidents, from more than 2.5 million cases down to about 2,500 cases in the whole world. And the last major holdout will be here in Southern Sudan,” Carter says in the video embedded below.

“Guinea Worm on Brink of Eradication in Sudan,” is a video report from Fred de Sam Lazaro that aired last night, April 7, 2010 on PBS NewsHour.

Warning: Some images in this video may be hard to watch


The report, funded in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is part of the center’s ongoing coverage of water issues, produced in collaboration with PBS NewsHour and National Geographic Magazine.

To learn more, visit the Pulitzer Center site DOWNSTREAM, which features multimedia reporting on water issues around the world.



Illustration of Guinea worm life cycle courtesy of CDC

How do you get Guinea worm disease?

(from the Carter Center Guinea Worm Eradication Program website)

Guinea worm disease is contracted when people ingest drinking water from stagnant sources containing copepods (commonly referred to as water fleas) that harbor infective Guinea worm larvae.

Inside a human’s abdomen, Guinea worm larvae mate and female worms mature and grow, some as long as 3 feet (1 meter).

After a year of incubation, the female Guinea worm creates an agonizingly painful lesion on the skin and slowly emerges from the body.

The contamination cycle begins when victims, seeking relief from the burning sensation caused by the emerging Guinea worm, immerse their limbs in sources of drinking water, which stimulates the emerging worm to release larvae into the water and begin the cycle all over again.

More Guinea worm facts and how you can help the Carter Center eradicate Guinea worm

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn