Guinea worm is a painful and debilitating tropical illness. Once a person is infected with guinea worm, or dracunculiasis, there is no known way to stop the disease taking its course. About a year after the guinea worm larvae have entered the body, usually through drinking contaminated water, the affected person will experience severe pain due to the formation of a blister on their skin and the slow emergence of one or more worms measuring up to a metre. The person can be debilitated for weeks or months. In 1986, about 3.5 million human cases were recorded annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia.
The good news is it will soon become the second human disease in history to be eradicated.
Only 13 cases of guinea worm disease were reported worldwide in 2022, down from 15 the previous year.
It is the result of more than four decades of global efforts to stamp out the parasitic disease by mobilising communities and improving drinking water quality in transmission hotspots.
Pakistan, India and Uganda are among the countries that have eradicated it. Last year the Democratic Republic of the Congo joined the list.
The remaining endemic countries are Chad, where six of last year’s human cases occurred; South Sudan, which recorded five; Ethiopia, which saw one; and Angola, Mali and Sudan, which recorded no cases. The Central African Republic, a non-endemic country, reported one case, which is under investigation.
Cases in animals also need to be eliminated and here, too, the numbers are going in the right direction. Infections in animals fell by more than a fifth last year.