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Jimmy Carter has had many accomplishments, but nearly eradicating Guinea worm may be his greatest

It was a problem no one would touch.

jimmy carter, guinea worm, carter center

Jimmy Carter at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California

In 2015, former president Jimmy Carter held a press conference where he laid out a goal for the rest of his time on Earth. "I would like to see Guinea worm completely eradicated before I die," Carter said. "I'd like for the last Guinea worm to die before I do. I think right now, we have 11 cases. We started out with 3.6 million cases."

Now that Carter, 98, is in hospice, spending his final days at home with his family, he probably won’t achieve his goal. But his herculean efforts at abolishing the deadly worm will be ranked among his most significant achievements as a politician and humanitarian over his extraordinary life.

When the Carter Center took the lead on an international campaign to eradicate the Guinea worm in 1986, there were 3.5 million cases in 21 countries across Africa and Asia. In 2022, only 13 cases were reported worldwide, a 99.99% decrease. If the Guinea worm disease is completely eradicated, it would only be the second eradicated human disease in history, following smallpox.


Carter and his wife celebrated a record low in cases last year.

“Rosalynn and I are pleased with this continued advance toward eradicating Guinea worm disease,” President Carter said. “Our partners, especially those in the affected villages, work with us daily to rid the world of this scourge. We are heartened that eradication can be achieved soon.”

After Carter left the White House in 1981, he went on a mission to fight “neglected” diseases in far-off places that most Americans would never have to worry about. He set his sights on conditions such as lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, river blindness, and schistosomiasis.

His former drug czar Peter Borne brought Guinea worm to his attention. Borne approached the Carter Center because no one else would touch the problem.

Guinea worm is also known as dracunculiasis which means “affliction with little dragons” in Latin. About a year after infection, the worms grow to three feet long, and the females prepare to give birth by making their way to a place right below the skin, causing painful blisters.

Eventually, the blisters burst and the mother burrows her way out, causing incredible pain.

To ease the pain, people often submerge the affected area in water, causing tens of thousands of baby worms to release in the water, where they will eventually find a host. Guinea worm can also cause fever, swelling and secondary infections like sepsis. Guinea worm causes significant hardships for families by rendering people unable to work or attend school.

“It’s an audacious and mind-boggling idea,” said Emily Staub, press liaison to health programs for the Carter Center, according to CNN. “I’m not just talking about just him. I’m talking about a whole bunch of people with the Carter Center that decided that they were going to eradicate a disease that has no vaccine, no immunity, no medication. It’s thousands of years old and has a one-year incubation. The odds are totally stacked against you. And the people that suffer from it speak thousands of different languages, and some have never had outsiders interact with them.”

jimmy carter, commonwealth club, carter center

Jimmy Carter at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California

via Wikimedia Commons

But Carter persisted, creating countless partnerships with leaders around the globe to educate people about the worm, provide tools for clean water and prevent its spread in the animal population. "Guinea worm disease has no cure, no vaccination, basically the entire eradication effort is built on behavior change,” Kelly Callahan, a public health worker who partnered with the Carter Center, told NPR.

Thirty-seven years after the Carter Center started on the audacious task of eradicating Guinea worm, the WHO has certified that 200 countries are free of the disease, meaning they've had zero instances of transmission in three years. Only six countries have yet to be certified as disease-free.

Jimmy Carter set a nearly impossible task, but with dogged persistence and the ability to make partnerships with people worldwide, many of whom have had little contact with the outside, he has helped save millions upon millions of people from incredible suffering.

In the coming days, people will celebrate many of Carter’s accomplishments. Let’s be sure that no one forgets to mention a success he’d rank among his proudest.

“We were traveling in a big motorcade,” he said in 2017. “We were driving along, and elementary school children had a big sign that says, ‘Watch out, Guinea worm. Here comes Jimmy Carter.’ That was almost as good as a Nobel Prize for me.”

A young woman drinking bottled water outdoors before exercising.



The Story of Bottled Waterwww.youtube.com

Here are six facts from the video above by The Story of Stuff Project that I'll definitely remember next time I'm tempted to buy bottled water.

1. Bottled water is more expensive than tap water (and not just a little).

via The Story of Stuff Project/YouTube


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And in an article in 20 Something Finance, G.E. Miller investigated the cost of bottled versus tap water for himself. He found that he could fill 4,787 20-ounce bottles with tap water for only $2.10! So if he paid $1 for a bottled water, he'd be paying 2,279 times the cost of tap.

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“As we were making vegetable soup, we landed on the idea of cooking it on stage and performing a concert with the vegetables while we were doing that,” Meinharter told Atlas Obscura. “It all started as a joke,” he told the BBC. “We were brainstorming what we could do, and we thought: ‘What is the most difficult thing to play music on?’”

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Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

Crinkle crankle walls are more common the U.K., but they can be found in the U.S. as well.

If you were to draw a straight line and a wavy line from point A to point B, there would be no question which one used more ink. After all, "The shortest distance between two points (on a flat surface) is a straight line" has been baked into our brains since elementary school math class. Logically, a wavy line uses more ink because it covers more distance, right? Right.

So if that's true, how is it possible that a brick wall built in a wavy pattern could use fewer bricks than a straight one built between the exact same two points?

Not only is it possible, it's actually true, despite people's disbelief over the fact.

A post on X from @InternetHOF shows the claim that "corrugated brick fences" sometimes seen in England use fewer bricks than a straight wall, with the caption, "I don't believe this is true."

It does seem illogical from a pure geometry-on-paper standpoint, but what makes it true is how the structural integrity of brick walls works.

There are all kinds of nitty-gritty calculations a structural engineer could get into to explain, but thankfully, internet hero (and strangely popular X account) Greg came to everyone's rescue with an explanation that neatly fit into a single post on X.

"They're called crinkle crankles," wrote Greg. "A single leaf wall over that distance would need brick piers approx every 1.5-2m if it was a retaining wall it would need to be at least 9” wide (2 bricks). The crinkle crankle has more strength due to it’s curved nature so can be 4” wide or a single leaf of bricks.

"For the maths if we can assume they’re true semi-circles then each semi circle would be 1/2piD or 1.57D whereas a double leaf wall would be 2D for the same length D.

"Therefore using 21.5% less bricks than a double leaf wall hope that clears things up."

In even simpler terms, a long, straight brick wall only a single brick wide would not be able to stand without some kind of buttresses every couple of meters, which would actually take more bricks to build. Otherwise, it would need to be thicker, which would also increase the number of bricks needed. The curve of the crinkle crankle (best name ever) provides stability all on its own, so the wall doesn't need structured supports.

serpentine brick wall next to a bunch of daffodils

Crinkle crankle walls are usually referred to as serpentine walls in the U.S.

Karen Blaha/Wikimedia Commons

First of all, what a cool piece of human ingenuity that people actually figured this out hundreds of years ago. And second of all, why are there not more crinkle crankle walls everywhere? So much more fun and whimsical. And apparently, a better use of resources.

But before you go building your own crinkle crankle wall to make your house look super cool, make sure you've got the geometry correct. There are actual specifications for making a structurally sound serpentine wall, and if you don't do it correctly, you may find yourself with a pile of bricks and no wall, curvy or straight.

If you want to see some cool crinkle crankle walls in the U.S., head to the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson himself added them to the design of the Charlottesville, Virginia, campus.

wavy brick wall separating a grassy area and a driveway

Crinkle crankle wall at the University of Virginia

Carlin MacKenzie/Wikimedia Commons

More crinkle crankles everywhere, please.