How to Slay a Dragon

Could Guinea worm, a deadly parasite that has plagued humans for centuries, be eradicated in the next year?

NOTE: From the start this film contains disturbing scenes of human suffering and graphic medical conditions which some viewers will find upsetting. This film is not suitable for children.

At the end of 2013, the Carter Center reported only 148 cases of dracunculiasis, commonly know as Guinea worm, recorded worldwide. This is down from 3.5 million cases reported in 1986.

Have health workers’ efforts over the last few decades result in the complete eradication of this gruesome and ancient disease?

The name “dracunculiasis” is derived from the Latin “affliction with little dragons” because of the painful fiery burning sensation experienced when the worm exits the body. The worm’s presence has been recorded as far back as ancient Egypt. 

Makoy Samuel Yibi is the national director of South Sudan’s Guinea worm eradication programme. His job has become more expensive and more difficult as the number of infections has dwindled, and as cases have shown up in the most remote corners of South Sudan. 

This is the first global broadcast to go in-depth about a topic that is often neglected in the developing world. This is a must-see to understand how such diseases can affect the lives of millions, and how close we are to eradicating this one, thanks to the heroes who are fighting it on the front lines.

by  Former US President Jimmy Carter, founder of the Carter Center

Tracking down the water source of the infection, itself, has been a hard task. Since it takes Guinea worm a year to mature in the body after being digested, the team has had to trace the movements of nomadic cattle herders one year back.

They also battle cultural differences as they plead with infected herders to stay put until worms have come out, so they do not move on to contaminate other water sources. 

There is no cure or vaccine. Rather the dramatic reduction in Guinea worm cases is due to behavioral changes.

Communities in vulnerable areas are provided with drinking pipes, which filter out the water fleas carrying the Guinea worm larvae; cloth filters make larger quantities of water safe for communal use. Prevention is reinforced by Makoy’s team through education and requires meticulous detection, investigation and control. A single victim can re-infect hundreds of people.

Former US President Jimmy Carter has devoted his philanthropic organisation’s resources to eliminating this disease, and he speaks of his desire to see the last few cases banished from the world in his own lifetime.

Smallpox is the only human disease in history to be successfully eradicated. Could Guinea worm be the next?

Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health profiles the extraordinary work of global health workers in their quest to rid the world of the deadly, neglected diseases and conditions that keep millions of people in poverty.


Lifelines: The Quest for Global Health   can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1200; Wednesday 0100