More Links in News & Events

Blog | Abu Dhabi Summit Energizes Guinea Worm Campaign

Adam Weiss is director of the Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program.

Some of the hallmarks of the four-decade Guinea worm eradication campaign, led by The Carter Center, are its agility, data-driven decision making, deep-rooted partnerships, and commitment to prioritize the needs of the endemic countries.

With a historic announcement of just 15 human cases coming at a time of establishing a new normal amid the COVID pandemic, we had a small window of opportunity to gather and reinvigorate the global Guinea worm team. When we put out the call, the folks that are most intimately aware of the challenges of the last mile answered.

The Carter Center and the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Court used their considerable combined influence to swiftly bring impacted countries and partners together in March 2022 for the Guinea Worm Summit in Abu Dhabi. The summit resulted in important discussions, a signed declaration, renewed energy, and tangible actions to accelerate efforts to eradicate the ancient disease. 

  • Leaders of endemic countries sign the Abu Dhabi Declaration on the Eradication of Guinea Worm Disease on March 22, 2022, at the UAE’s presidential palace, Qasr Al Watan. (Photo: The Carter Center)

High-level representatives of Angola, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, South Sudan, and Sudan reconfirmed their commitment to accelerate progress by signing the Abu Dhabi Declaration on the Eradication of Guinea Worm Disease. At Qasr Al Watan, the UAE’s presidential palace, the declaration was signed in solidarity by Sheikh Shakhboot bin Nahyan Al Nahyan, minister of state at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Jason Carter, chair of the Carter Center Board of Trustees; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.

The summit celebrated the success to date of the global campaign, highlighted by an original video that inspired even the hardest of hearts. I invite you to watch it for yourself.

Many summit attendees were meeting face to face with their counterparts for the first time since the pandemic began, renewing old alliances. It created momentum and reinspired the Guinea worm team and many of our partners, reinforced relationships, and created opportunities to build new connections to tackle neglected tropical diseases.

The UAE continues to be an unwavering partner, the program’s third-largest donor, committed to seeing eradication through to the end. Furthermore, the UAE’s central location for African travel, its proactive response to COVID combined with its openness for international business travel while hosting the World Expo, its role as an independent regional powerbroker, and its commitment to global health made the UAE an ideal convening partner for the summit.

Those in attendance included Paige Alexander, chief executive officer of The Carter Center; Dr. Kashef Ijaz, vice president for health programs at The Carter Center; HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majid al Saud, secretary general of Saudi Arabia’s Alwaleed Philanthropies; Faustina Fynn-Nyame, executive director for Africa of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, based in London; Simon Bland, chief executive officer of the Global Institute for Disease Elimination (GLIDE), based in Abu Dhabi; Shaista Asif, chief operating officer of Pure Health, a new  Carter Center partner based in the UAE; as well as representatives of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNICEF.

The summit provided an important opportunity for coalition members to learn from and be inspired by one another after a long period of going it alone — which they did quite successfully, remaining at least 90% operational throughout the pandemic. But those personal interactions are vital.

UAE Crown Prince (and now President) Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi hosted Jason Carter and his eldest son, Henry, for a traditional palace meeting to recognize more than 30 years of partnership. A multigenerational commitment to Guinea worm eradication began with the Crown Prince’s father, UAE founder Sheikh Zayed, and Jason Carter’s grandfather, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. I joined Paige Alexander and Dr. Kashef Ijaz for the meeting.

That’s one of the unique characteristics The Carter Center has – bringing people together. It’s what President Carter wanted The Carter Center to do from the start 40 years ago, and that has translated into a global eradication campaign that is able to build consensus around issues that affect people in the most marginalized places. Combine that with the convening power of Reaching the Last Mile and the energy of partner countries and organizations, and you have a formidable force for good in the world.

Summit Outcomes

Organizing the summit with the UAE generated force-multiplying events. It is fair to say the summit was a turning point, as activity in the subsequent weeks and months shows. We are making history in real time.

Chad, with most of the cases in recent years, is the epicenter of the eradication effort. Immediately after the summit’s conclusion, the director-general of Chad’s health ministry sent out a directive to all of its impacted regions to prioritize Guinea worm eradication and implement interventions, such as the proactive tethering of dogs.

Additionally, an intersectoral task force meeting was held in Chad on June 2, chaired by the World Health Organization’s director-general for infectious diseases. The meeting involved numerous governmental and nongovernmental agencies to discuss the status of Guinea worm disease in Chad and begin devising ways to collaborate. This was Chad’s first task force meeting in several years.

Ethiopia Minister of Health Dr. Lia Tadesse Gebremedhin led a high-level visit to a village with a history of Guinea worm cases. Joining the minister were the vice president of Gambella Regional State, the state minister of agriculture, members of the Gambella Regional Parliament, and representatives of the WHO and The Carter Center, including me. The May visit focused on safe water and resulted in a pledge from UNICEF to finance timely repairs to the village’s water pump.

After the summit, The Carter Center invested $500,000 in safe-water projects in South Sudan, which will help with both Guinea worm and trachoma. The government of South Sudan has recently emphasized safe water and planned to host an international water summit later this year.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo submitted its dossier to the WHO requesting to be certified as Guinea worm free, and Sudan wrote a letter to The Carter Center pledging to do likewise before the end of the year. These countries are the only nonendemic countries yet to submit for certification of eradication of Guinea worm disease.

Cameroon, a formerly endemic country, agreed to take part in a meeting to help coordinate efforts that span that country’s frontier with Chad. That meeting is mission critical because it addresses an epidemiological zone that traverses a border. The population along the border is basically one people that lives on two sides of a river, creating a Guinea worm infection risk for both countries. The cross-border meeting marks a renewed level of engagement and cooperation between Cameroon and The Carter Center.

Carter Center Board of Trustees Chair Jason Carter and WHO Secretary-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote a well-received guest essay on Guinea worm that appeared in a special section of The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Numerous other outlets covered the summit, including The National, Philanthropy Age, The Lancet, and Nature