Another nefarious deed by history's greatest monster
August 5, 2013 1:29 PM   Subscribe

"There is no vaccine for guinea worm, and there are no drugs that can cure those who are infected. The pest once afflicted hundreds of millions of people from the Gambia to India. But the worm is now gone from Guinea, and from almost everywhere else. At last count, there were only five hundred and forty-two people infected, down from an estimated 3.5 million in 1986. Of the remaining cases, exactly five hundred and twenty-one are in South Sudan." -- Parasitologist Mark Siddall on the very successfull, Jimmy Carter sponsored campaign to eradicate the guinea worm and how this campaign proved Malthus wrong.
posted by MartinWisse (41 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Picture at the top might be a bit much for the squamish.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:30 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Saw the title, immediately wondered if this was about Jimmy Carter.
posted by mediocre at 1:43 PM on August 5, 2013


Malthus is going to be right one of these days. Right?

Also, what a great cause. So low profile but what a terrible parasite - so much suffering removed from the people in these regions.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Picture at the top might be a bit much for the squamish.

It's meant to be, and is well placed. It should horrify anyone who looks at it and make a lasting impression because so many millions have silently suffered from this parasite. Imagine the countless millions of people who have suffered this way but we're only hearing about it NOW, after centuries, literally, of suffering. It's too easy for those in the developed world to forget the agonies that so many billions suffer from. We profit from their wage slavery and mineral resources; we should know their sufferings, as well. Kudos to the Carter Foundation!
posted by Vibrissae at 1:51 PM on August 5, 2013 [18 favorites]


Picture at the top might be a bit much for the squamish.

Everything about the topic of the guinea worm is not for the squeamish.

Great results in eradicating an awful plague.
posted by aught at 1:52 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


How do you bury the lede here

This is the best sentence of the whole piece:

a campaign that President Jimmy Carter began in 1986 to destroy the worm.

I need to see him riding a pegasus and fully-armored while killing The Wyrm
posted by Greg Nog at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2013 [28 favorites]


Picture at the top might be a bit much for the squamish.

Well, that's pretty racist.

Seriously, though, this is fantastic. So much of the time the problems of the developing world seem so overwhelming, with charities just barely treading water, not making progress. Seeing such a huge, permanent step towards improving quality of life is, well, uplifting.
posted by Runcible! at 2:05 PM on August 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


Great progress against a terrible plight, but I think that saying it proved Malthus wrong is not quite the complete picture, and the author realizes that (to a degree):
Now, [Ghana and Mauritania] are free not only of guinea worm but, increasingly, of the shackles of poverty: per capita G.D.P. has tripled, the number of people living on less than a dollar a day has been halved, and the birth rate has plummeted. This, obviously, is the result of many factors besides guinea worms. But I can say this: so much for Malthus.
Ghana and Mauritania have had troubled pasts, and the economy of Ghana has improved but Mauritania saw a peak in the Seventies. Things are generally getting better, but there's more than the demise of the guinea worms.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:05 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Carter talked about this on the Daily Show last April (link). Amazing man.
posted by cosmac at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a genocide I can get behind. Death to the worm.
posted by Apoch at 2:12 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


First they came for the guinea worm...
posted by Flashman at 2:14 PM on August 5, 2013


Actually, first they came for small pox.
posted by Apoch at 2:16 PM on August 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


Then they came for polio.

And then they came for measles, but apparently people got tired of wiping out diseases because they let measles back in.
posted by GuyZero at 2:19 PM on August 5, 2013 [19 favorites]


You're a good man, Jimmy Carter.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


They came for the guinea worm and I said, "Keep up the good work" because seriously fuck the guinea worm.
posted by ckape at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Guinea worm is a horrid creature. I am not squeamish, I generally can see the good in many despised critters. I rescue spiders and earthworms. But Guinea worms are plain icky. So I am glad there are successful efforts to get rid of these nasty things.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:29 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just air high-fived Jimmy Carter and everyone else that had anything to do with this. If making life better for millions of people isn't worth a high-five, nothing is.
posted by Gygesringtone at 2:42 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


A better candidate for History's Greatest Monster, John D. Rockefeller, eliminated hookworm in the South.
posted by mrhappy at 2:46 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


An achievement and a legacy greater than a mere presidency. If every former US President could help wipe out one such disease from the world then history would have cause to bless that nation throughout the ages. Three cheers for Jimmy Carter, for his homeland and for humanity!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:58 PM on August 5, 2013 [11 favorites]




if more christians were like Jimmy Carter i might reconvert. if more politicians were like him (and his equally amazing wife) i'd love my gov't.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 3:06 PM on August 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


An achievement and a legacy greater than a mere presidency. If every former US President could help wipe out one such disease from the world then history would have cause to bless that nation throughout the ages. Three cheers for Jimmy Carter, for his homeland and for humanity!

GW is working to eradicate toenail fungus.
posted by Area Man at 3:31 PM on August 5, 2013


Furry cute animals get protection. Parasitic worms don't get shit. Animal racism, anyone?
posted by Renoroc at 4:09 PM on August 5, 2013


If we can eliminate this, that will make 2 plagues that we've eradicated, the other being smallpox. Except, of course, there are definitely stocks of smallpox at labs, and rumored stockpiles of weaponized smallpox in Russia. It makes me wonder if someone has frozen some guinea worm eggs somewhere, as a possible future weapon of terror or for research.
posted by Blackanvil at 4:50 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


whatever you do don't google image search guinea worm. what has been seen...
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 4:59 PM on August 5, 2013


If every former US President could help wipe out one such disease from the world then history would have cause to bless that nation throughout the ages.

44 scourges eradicated in 300 years. What a thought. Kinda makes me want to weep.

Anyhow : Yippie James Earl Carter. Good for him.
posted by mule98J at 5:02 PM on August 5, 2013


Parasitic worms don't get shit.

They quite often do, actually.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:03 PM on August 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'll just leave this here:

Save the Guinea Worm Foundation
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:24 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


What I find particularly admirable is that guinea worm eradication is just about the least sexy cause imaginable. It's not going to get you glamorous movies made about you, it's not going to get you face time with important world leaders, it's down and dirty work in some of the poorest places on earth. Someone who picks that is someone who is egoless and goes for what will help others the most.
posted by tavella at 6:31 PM on August 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


GuyZero: "Malthus is going to be right one of these days. Right?"

We're in the middle of the biggest Malthusian trap in history, it's just a matter of finding out what triggers it. I hope I'm not around to find out what that trigger turns out to be.
posted by mullingitover at 6:43 PM on August 5, 2013


GW is working to eradicate toenail fungus.

All yuks aside, and no matter whatever other problems the guy has, W actually did a great deal for fighting AIDS in Africa. PEPFAR has plenty of issues, but even for all of the program's flaws, it has helped a great many people.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:08 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


And yeah, before you rip on GW, go compare, dollar wise, what PEPFAR has done for those suffering from AIDS in the third world. Compare it to, well, anything else. $15 Billion in its first 5 years alone. The Carter Center as a whole had an income of $182M in their last reported fiscal year.

PEPFAR has been called the largest health initiative ever initiated by one country to address a disease.

Bush was by no means a great president and has a lot of Iraqi blood on his hands, but his legacy for enabling relief work around the world will be hard for any president to match, ever.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:57 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


All yuks aside, and no matter whatever other problems the guy has, W actually did a great deal for fighting AIDS in Africa.

I'm a regular donor to his and Bill Clinton's Haiti charity. It's one of the only charities in the region that focuses on long-term reconstruction, in part by creating economic opportunities by educating and training adults and young people. 10 percent of the find goes to supporting microfinance institutions, much of which supports woman.

I don't know how much actual day-to-day Bush has with the charity, but he and Clinton putting their names on it gave broad indication that this was a nonpartisan issue and a nonpartisan charity, and that has meant a lot.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:06 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Blackanvil: "If we can eliminate this, that will make 2 plagues that we've eradicated, the other being smallpox. Except, of course, there are definitely stocks of smallpox at labs, and rumored stockpiles of weaponized smallpox in Russia. It makes me wonder if someone has frozen some guinea worm eggs somewhere, as a possible future weapon of terror or for research."

I would bet a lot of money that guinea worm will be preserved in some fashion. I'm not clear on what will happen to the guinea worm once it no longer is infecting humans. Will it die out after a certain amount of time without a human host?

While destruction of eradicated things like smallpox (and hopefully soon, guinea worm) can certainly be seen as a great achievement, I think an argument can also be made that it might be wise to save them in highly secure facilities (as we've done with smallpox) just in case they present themselves again or something genetically similar evolves into existence. I'm by no means a geneticist so I really have no idea, though.

Any weaponized stuff, however, should be destroyed for obvious reasons.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:48 PM on August 5, 2013


One Wikipedia article says "No reservoir hosts are known, that is, each generation of worms must pass through a human." Another says "Dracunculus medinensis has been reported in humans, dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and other animals in Africa and Asia."

So what's the deal? Will eliminating infection in humans eliminate the disease or not?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:46 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Given they have gotten it down from multiple millions to under 500 known infections in less than 30 years by interrupting human transmission, I am willing to say that there may be related worms that use other hosts but that they aren't cross-transmissible with humans.

Plus, y'know, the people involved aren't stupid and presumably did a bit of research into paths of transmission before they put the effort in.
posted by tavella at 12:05 AM on August 6, 2013


Joe in Australia: I think the confusion comes from the fact that there's Dracunculiasis in dogs and other animals, but they're not the same worm species that infects humans.

Dog Dracunculiasis:
http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12150_12220-27119--,00.html

Human-only Dracunculiasis:
http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/87/9/09-010909/en/index.html
[The World Health Organization says] humans are the only known reservoir for the parasite, and denying the worm access to water is a matter of changing human behaviour.
Random aside: I realized while reading this thread that the Rob Zombie horror metal song "Dragula" must be a subtle tribute to Jimmy Carter conquering the worm.

okay, not really
posted by Sleeper at 12:13 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hold on. Apparently D. Medinensis can infect and live in other mammals:
it is likely that infection is much more common in many countries than is currently recognized. This is well illustrated by the situation in North America, where there are one or two reports of infection in wild carnivores and domestic dogs each year
But:
There is no evidence that animals act or have ever acted as reservoir hosts of human guinea worm infection, but the theoretical possibility that they could do so has not been conclusively disproved.
So:
The question of whether animal reservoirs of D. medinensis exist should be clarified by projected DNA sequence studies, but in any event animal infections are unlikely to prove a human public health problem once complete eradication of the human disease has been achieved, particularly if safe water sources are provided.
I couldn't stop reading about it.
posted by Sleeper at 12:45 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I hope it's not too ghoulish to already be thinking about what Jimmy Carter's legacy will be. He deserves a great reputation.

If anything, with regard to his "story", the fact that his strength was not in his Presidency is a plus, not a minus. He did what he could, but when that didn't entirely work out, he didn't disappear off the face of the earth. He worked tirelessly to better mankind in other ways. It's okay to not be a great President. Not everyone can be. Hell, sometimes those qualities which make you a good person are those same qualities that can hold you back from a truly rootin-tootin' Presidency. Just keep doing good, and that will be its own reward.

To me, that kind of story is much more inspiring than a story about someone who seemingly can't be beat. I don't relate to that.

...

That said, Jimmy Carter missed a golden opportunity to title this particular charitable mission "OPERATION FUCK GUINEA WORMS", with the subtitle, "SERIOUSLY, FUCK THESE THINGS," and below that, "NOT A JOKE. IF YOU'RE A GUINEA WORM, GO FUCK YOURSELF. GO CHOKE ON YOUR OWN SHIT."
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:55 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think my biggest fear is leaving this work behind and wondering if anything really got changed for the better. Because I can see that almost everything and everyone is actively working against that happening. This gives me hope, and it just might keep me around a day or two longer, trying to get something good done.

In 6 years, I promise you, you've done a lot more good for a lot more people than I have in 20 years as a software developer. The people who are so sure they can determine where "Value" is in these things are *always* wrong. Fuck That Noise. You're right. They're wrong. You're doing the right thing.

Thanks.
posted by DigDoug at 7:31 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I thought I remembered a science fiction story about this group of people who offer their own bodies to host guinea worms, so that they would not go extinct. And a whole cult/religion built around that.

But then I see Fists O'Fury's link - tomorrow, August 7, is International Save the Guinea Worm day! That must be what I was vaguely remembering. (And for the sake of my sanity, I hope that's a parody link.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:56 AM on August 6, 2013


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