Lord Speaker on eradicating Guinea worm disease

27 January 2016

President Carter has since the early 1980s devoted his life to promoting  human rights and alleviating suffering around the world, through his foundation, the Carter Center.

He has worked tirelessly in fields in which it is rare to achieve outright and measurable success. But in a lecture to parliamentarians in February, he will be chronicling the long and difficult journey to one such success – the near total eradication of Guinea worm disease. Over the past thirty years, President Carter has piloted international efforts to eradicate this disease. When, and it is surely now a case of when rather than if, the World Health Organisation declares Guinea worm disease eradicated, it will join smallpox as only the second disease to have been eradicated through man-made effort.

The Guinea worm

The Guinea worm is an endemic parasite in West and central Africa which lives in stagnant water. Once in the body, the parasite migrates through the subcutaneous tissue where it can live for up to a year. The adult eventually emerges in the form of a blister. This ‘emergence’ can take several days or even weeks and is extremely painful. Whenever the host enters water the adult female discharges thousands of larvae and so the cycle continues. During its time in the body it saps its host’s energy and immunity.
If this parasite and its ill effects were to be widespread in say the UK or USA it would have been eradicated decades ago. But in Africa it was allowed to fester amongst human populations.

This is why the work of the Carter Center is to be trumpeted – a neglected disease rampant in neglected populations, wreaking damage to its hosts – is being patiently and determinedly eradicated due to the persistence of a large number of dedicated workers.

Work of Parliament

I am particularly delighted and honoured that Parliament is involved in celebrating this imminent milestone. Both Houses have many members dedicated to raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases, and both Houses have held important debates on the subject in recent years. What’s more, there is a pleasing symmetry to having parliamentarians hear of such significant work achieved through perseverance and small, incremental gains—this is invariably how parliamentarians practise politics!

The Global Lecture series

President Carter’s lecture is the second in the Lord Speaker’s Global Lecture series (the first in November 2014 given by Bill Gates) and will be accompanied by an exhibition on the work of the Center, with the focus on the eradication of Guinea Worm disease. It will also be, according to President Carter himself, the last occasion that he and Mrs Carter will visit the UK.

Further information

Image: House of Lords 2016

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