President Jimmy Carter Visits Museum to Launch Countdown to Zero

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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced at the Museum this morning that the worldwide number of cases of the debilitating Guinea worm disease dropped to 126 in 2014—a decrease of more than 99.9 percent since The Carter Center, the nongovernmental organization he helped found, began leading a coordinated program to eradicate the condition in 1986.

Speaking at an event to mark the January 13 opening of Countdown to Zero: Defeating Disease, the former President discussed the successes of the campaign to wipe out Guinea worm disease, including coordination with local governments, as well as the challenges that remain in the final push to bring the number of cases to zero.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, visiting the Museum for the opening of exhibition Countdown to Zero, announced that cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide had dropped to 126 in 2014.  ©AMNH/R.Mickens 

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, visiting the Museum for the opening of exhibition Countdown to Zero, announced that cases of Guinea worm disease worldwide had dropped to 126 in 2014. 

©AMNH/R.Mickens 


“It’s a major undertaking to eliminate a disease from everywhere in the world,” said Carter, who was joined this morning by Museum President Ellen V. Futter; Dr. Donald Hopkins, The Carter Center’s vice president for health programs; and the Museum’s Mark Siddall, a parasitologist and curator of the exhibition. “Those last Guinea worm cases are very difficult to detect. If it still exists after 30 years, there’s a special reason [for that] in that village.”

Dr. Siddall, who traveled to South Sudan with The Carter Center in 2013, spoke about the importance of highlighting disease eradication efforts and the science behind them for the public. The Guinea worm disease eradication program has focused on interrupting the life cycle of the parasite that causes the illness, the nematode worm Dracunculus medinensis.


“As a library of biodiversity, the Museum has a responsibility to our visitors to inform them about biodiversity and our relationships to it—and disease is part of that biodiversity,” said Siddall. “Some of the early work figuring out the life cycle of parasites was work that was done here. Without that knowledge, we wouldn’t be able to intercede.” 

This evening, President Carter, Dr. Donald Hopkins, and Dr. Siddall will be joined by Dr. Jane Carlton, director of the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University for a panel discussion about combatting infectious diseases.  A video of the sold-out event will be available on AMNH.tv and on the Museum’s YouTube channel later this week.

Countdown to Zero, which was developed in collaboration with The Carter Center, opens tomorrow at the Museum.