In the early 1990s, campaigners for the eradication of dracunculiasis (guinea worm disease) faced a problem. While the global effort to eradicate Guinea worm began a decade previous, the disease still persisted in some area, and the largest of these remaining pockets was a warzone. In 1994, nearly 29% of all Guinea worm cases worldwide occurred in Southern Sudan, where rebels groups like the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) had battled government forces since 1983.
The guinea worm eradication campaign organizers originally planned on waiting for the Sudanese Civil War to end before launching programs in the country. However, in 1995 something remarkable happened: Sudan’s civil war was put on hold for four months. Why? So local and international health workers could eradicate guinea worm in the country.
Organized by President Carter, the ceasefire was signed by Sudan’s leader Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and the South Sudan Independence Army. The so called “Guinea Worm Ceasefire” allowed health workers to conduct eradication programs in 2000 Sudanese villages and other interventions.
While war returned to Sudan after the ceasefire, in 2005 the warring parties signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The agreement has allowed the Southern Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program (SSGWEP) to deploy over 28,000 volunteers and health workers around the region. In 1995, 53,000 cases of guinea worm were reported in Sudan, in 2009 that number was 2,733.
Photo Credit: hdcentre.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.