Friday, December 05, 2008

Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush’s Future

by Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
December 5, 2008

Jimmy Carter is by far the best ex-president the United States has ever had, and he underscored that again this morning by announcing that Guinea Worm cases have reached an all-time low. For those of you who have never heard of it, Guinea Worm is one of the worst parasites you can get. The worms burrow inside of you, grow to almost three feet long, are incredibly painful, and finally pop out of the skin and have to be reeled out, inch by inch, over many days. They are an ancient affliction in tropical countries, but Carter has led an effort to eradicate them.

Last year, I caught up with Carter in rural Ethiopia and wrote about his efforts to fight river blindness and Guinea Worm, and ran a video of it as well. Today he announces that Guinea Worm is down to 5,000 cases worldwide — mostly in Sudan, Mali and Ghana — and tantalizingly close to eradication. If it is eradicated, it will be only the second ailment, after smallpox, that we’ve been able to eliminate form Earth.

Carter sees this as a race between him and the worm: will he be able to eliminate Guinea Worm while he’s still on Earth? I hope he wins the race, and it looks as if eradication may be achievable in the next few years. Worldwide cases have already been reduced by 99.7 percent, and Carter’s work has truly transformed those villages where the worm used to be endemic. He shows that these are battles we can win.

Let’s hope that President Bush, in figuring out what to do in his post-presidency, borrows a page from Jimmy Carter. There are lots of diseases waiting for a wealthy, well-connected Texan to lead the fight against.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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