We all know Benjamin Franklin’s proverb “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It makes sense to try to keep a bad thing from happening rather than to try to fix the mess that results if you let the bad thing happen. This simple but profound principle is at work in everything we do at The Carter Center.
For example, we are closing in on the eradication of Guinea worm disease — and we got there by teaching millions of people how to avoid becoming infected. Filtering drinking water and keeping infected people from entering water sources are simple measures that have driven the parasite to the brink of extinction—and saved millions from having to endure the debilitating pain of Guinea worm disease.
In South Sudan, a demonstration to community members on how and why to use a water filter helps prevent Guinea worm disease. (Photo: The Carter Center)
We take a prevention approach with other neglected tropical diseases as well. River blindness and lymphatic filariasis are spread by insects that bite infected people and then inject the infection into healthy people. Mass drug administration doesn’t stop the insects from biting; what it does do is make people healthier so that there is no infection to transmit. In the case of trachoma, we teach people hygiene techniques and help them build latrines to reduce the population of the flies that spread the infection from person to person. We prevent transmission, and people don’t get sick.
The value of prevention isn’t limited to health; our peace work embraces it too. Our Human Rights Program staff know that when people are knowledgeable about their rights, they are empowered to take lawful action to protect their freedoms. We work to prevent election-related violence that can spark civil conflict. We mediate and teach others to mediate disputes, with the goal of negotiating solutions and preventing violence. In all these ways and more, we strive to meet challenges before they become problems and find solutions to problems before they become crises.
Call it “a stitch in time” if you like. At The Carter Center, it is standard operating procedure.