Jimmy Carter, who's been working for decades to eradicate Guinea worm disease, says only 25 human cases of the illness were reported worldwide in 2016. When the Carter Center joined the battle to eliminate Guinea worm disease in the mid-1980s, there were about 3.5 million cases in 21 countries, the former president said Wednesday. For the first time, Mali reported no cases of the tropical disease, leaving cases in just three countries: Chad, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, the AP reports. The majority of these—16—were reported in Chad, Carter said at a news conference in Atlanta. Diseases such as Guinea worm were once considered uncontrollable. Now, health officials know, "they can be eliminated, they can be eradicated," Carter said. "And we can prove that by the progress that we've made."
The illness often spreads when people drink water contaminated with the worm's larvae. The worm grows to about 3 feet long inside the body, slowly emerging through a painful blister. Teaching people to filter water is a key strategy to fight it, as is encouraging people to cook their fish and stop throwing raw fish guts to dogs, which may spread the disease. "That's one of the challenges—that one size does not fit all with this problem," notes Dr. Donald Hopkins, the center's special adviser for Guinea worm eradication. The fact that there were no reported cases in Mali is a significant milestone toward the goal of wiping out the disease, he adds. From a logistical standpoint, it's easier to monitor cases in three countries instead of four. Hopkins said that in theory, the disease could be eliminated within the next year or so. (Read more disease stories.)