Today’s blog takes a look at an inspiring story from Mashable’s recent #SocialGoodSummit – how can we effect the positive change the world needs? #2030NOW  

In 1986, the year of my birth, Guinea Worm afflicted 3.5 million annually in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. The parasitic disease is caused by a roundworm infection and contracted when people consume water from stagnant sources contaminated with worm larvae.

Inside a human abdomen, worm larvae mate, mature and grow. After about a year, mature female worms—now 1 meter in length—create painful lesions on the skin (usually lower legs) and slowly emerge from the body. Some Guinea Worm sufferers attempt to relieve the pain by plunging their painful sores into water, spurring the worms to release larvae and thus begin again the cycle of infection.

Gross! But even worse than gross, painful and devastating to the capacity of those afflicted to care for themselves, work, attend school and, perhaps most notably, to farm. It is impossible to till or harvest a field with chronic, burning blisters on your feet. Worse, the Guinea Worm reproductive cycle corresponds closely with major crop harvests, and in the most afflicted communities in Central Africa, estimates ranged up to 80% infection during peak harvest periods, devastating the most vulnerable communities’ abilities to sustain themselves.

For decades the raging infection was considered a low priority—as typically a non-fatal affliction—by international organizations. In 1986, having recognized the devastating effect on food production, education and quality of life, The Carter Center set out to change all that. Working closely with ministries of health and local communities, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF, The Carter Center launched an initiative centered on community-based intervention to wipe out the ancient disease.

Despite a lack of curative medicine, Guinea Worm has been all but eradicated with a strategy of educational and behavioral change—such as teaching people to filter all drinking water and preventing transmission by keeping anyone with an emerging worm from water sources. The coalition organized by The Carter Center has reduced affliction to just 83 in 2014 (year-to-date). The initiative has additionally established village-based health delivery systems in thousands of communities across Central Africa. 

Guinea Worm

In their Guinea Worm eradication initiative, The Carter Center formed a broad yet targeted coalition, effectively utilized grass-roots education, and, most importantly, thought critically and creatively about development and healthcare. Guinea Worm, while not fatal, was devastating to local agriculture and education—but now it exists predominantly as a shining example of successful, collaborative, targeted and creative intervention.

-Caleb Ballou

Thanks to The Carter Center for providing information for this article.