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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. TebebeYemaneBerhan, 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 Guinea 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.