ATLANTA — The world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has succeeded in interrupting transmission of Guinea worm disease, the country’s minister of health announced Wednesday at The Carter Center. As of the end of February 2018, South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has recorded zero cases of Guinea worm disease for 15 consecutive months. Because the Guinea worm life cycle is about a year, a 15-month absence of cases indicates the interruption of transmission.
“This is a great achievement for our young nation,” Dr. Riek Gai Kok, South Sudan’s health minister, said during the global Guinea Worm Eradication Program’s 22nd annual review at The Carter Center. “Our health workers and thousands of volunteers have done exemplary work eliminating this disease across our country, and I have no doubt that the World Health Organization will grant certification in due time.”
Dr. Tebebe Yemane Berhan, goodwill ambassador for Guinea worm eradication in Ethiopia, participated in the announcement, as did Dr. Gautam Biswas of the WHO. Representing The Carter Center were Dr. Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben and Dr. Donald R. Hopkins, both original architects of the Guinea worm eradication campaign.
The WHO has certified 199 countries, territories, and areas as free of Gu
inea worm disease. Kenya received WHO certification in February, having detected no cases since 1994. As South Sudan enters the precertification stage, the only countries remaining to be certified are Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, and Sudan.
Chad and Ethiopia each reported 15 cases in 2017. Those 30 were the only cases in the world in 2017; when The Carter Center began leading the Guinea worm eradication campaign in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases annually in 21 countries on two continents.
The most recent case in South Sudan was Maralina Buolaa, a 13-year-old girl who lives in Khor Jamus village, Jur River County, Western Bahr al Ghazal state; her worm emerged on November 20, 2016. Meet others affected by Guinea worm disease »
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter congratulated South Sudan.
“The people and government of South Sudan have achieved a great milestone in the worldwide effort to eradicate Guinea worm disease. Today’s news is the fruit of good faith shown by all parties that agreed to the 1995 cease-fire during Sudan’s terrible civil war, allowing health workers to start a campaign of interventions against this horrible parasitic disease,” said Carter, who negotiated the cease-fire. “South Sudan’s success shows that people can collaborate for the common good. We look forward to certification by the WHO in the next few years that South Sudan has won the battle against this ancient scourge. We are within reach of a world free of Guinea worm disease.”
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Contact: Emily Staub, Emily.Staub@CarterCenter.org, (404) 420-5126