The New York Times today describes the progress being made in the defeat of Guinea worm.
Now, thanks to a relentless 20-year campaign led by former President Jimmy Carter, Guinea worm is poised to become the first disease since smallpox to be pushed into oblivion. Fewer than 12,000 cases were found last year, down from 3 million in 1986.
Mr. Carter persuaded world leaders, philanthropists and companies to care about an obscure and revolting disease and help him fight it. His foundation mobilized volunteers in tens of thousands of villages to treat the drinking water the worms live in.
The story is told in more detail in Millions Saved by my colleague Ruth Levine. The study finds that eradication efforts have led to a 99 percent drop in guinea work prevalence. The total cost of the program has been less than $100 million - an estimated cost per case of $5- $8. The economic rate of return based on agricultural productivity alone has been estimated at 29 percent.
We do not have a vaccine against guinea worm, and yet we are close to complete eradication of the disease. The success demonstrates that is is possible affordably and sustainably to control (and largely eliminate) a disease through a program to promote substantial changes in behavior.
The fight against guinea worm represents one of the most successful international collaborations, whose success hinged on the steady, long term commitment of donors, national governments, and the public health community, combined with the steadfast political leadership of President Carter of the US, General Toumani Toure of Mali, and General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria.