Dracunculiasis and Poverty: The Facts and Impact

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SEATTLE, Washington — Dracunculiasis (also known as Guinea Worm Disease) is not the most common disease around. The only reason this disease has reached this state of obscurity is due to the hard work of NGOs and an ambitious plan enacted to achieve a milestone in humanitarian aid and the elimination of dracunculiasis and poverty.

Dracunculiasis and Poverty

Dracunculiasis is a parasitic disease caused by the Dracunculiasis medinensis larvae. Humans contract these larvae when they drink from a water source tainted with infected water fleas. The infected will show no symptoms during the first year. After the worm has grown, it will burrow its way out of the host’s body, creating ulcers (typically on the foot) and reducing mobility for weeks at a time. 

The afflicted can expect to experience symptoms of nausea, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea. While the symptoms themselves may only be an annoyance, complications like infections and tetanus can be crippling. Death by dracunculiasis is rather uncommon; disability is a far more common outcome. This can be extremely devastating given the infected could be out of work for several weeks. 

Dracunculiasis and poverty are intertwined. It only afflicts 10 percent of the world’s poorest population. Previously when dracunculiasis was a more wide-spread disease, the local economy faced a great deal of damage. This was particularly the case for farming and livestock ventures, which could cost millions of dollars a year, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Fortunately, Dracunculiasis is a rare disease, with Chad being the most prominent country affected, reporting a total of 43 cases in 2019.

The Fight Against Dracunculiasis

Dracunculiasis is mostly unheard of due to its close eradication. Dracunculiasis could become the first parasitic disease and the second disease in history to be eliminated. One prominent NGO leading the charge against dracunculiasis and poverty is the Carter Center, which has been working to dispose of guinea worm disease since 1986. 

Dracunculiasis is a rare disease today thanks to the phenomenal work being done to eradicate this disease. In 1981, the World Health Organization founded the Global Dracunculiasis Eradication Campaign (GDEC). Working together with the CDC, they put together the guidelines that would lead to the elimination of the disease. Some of the guidelines consisted of providing consistent access to clean water and treating infected sources while others focused on garnering support for this campaign. 

The Future of Dracunculiasis

Today, the GDEC is well on its way to achieving its goal of global eradication. The final stretches of the campaign will prove to be the most difficult as the remaining cases are often in the most remote and secluded locations. Not only that, but guinea worm disease has been reported in other mammals as well. Dogs and cats with Dracunculiasis are common in endemic regions. 

The second disease eradication in human history is almost here. Still, it will require the continued effort of world governments and NGOs like the Carter Center. The most promising aspect of the Dracunculiasis is that it provides the world with a blueprint for how to combat and eliminate wide-spread diseases, a goal often touted as impractical until now.   

 – Ryan Holman
Photo: Flickr

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