By Peter Martell, in Lourja for AFP
17th February, 2010
Scars on Severion Wayet's arms reveal where the flesh-burrowing Guinea worms burst through her skin.
It was an agonising process that lasted days as the worms, measuring around one metre (three feet) in length, fought their way out of her body.
"They were very painful, you cannot rest or sleep," the young mother said, her baby resting on her back in a goatskin carrying pouch.
Her village of Lojura, a remote settlement in the hot, dusty bush of south Sudan's Central Equatoria state, already has enough to deal with following a brutal civil war that ended just five years ago.
But it is also one of the world's worst areas for Guinea worm.
Also known as dracunculiasis, from the Latin for "little dragons", the worm is a particularly painful water-borne parasite that can leave people weakened and sick for months every year.
Spread by contaminated drinking water, the worm larvae grow into wriggling creatures up to a metre in length, and mate inside the human body.
After about a year, the white worms dig through the body towards the skin, releasing chemicals to burn the flesh and then spewing thousands of larvae as they exit.
"Many people have suffered from the worms, but we want them to end," said Wayet. "I do not want my children to suffer like that."
Now a final drive is being made to eradicate the worms for good.
The Carter Centre - the not-for-profit organisation founded by former US president Jimmy Carter - has been working in Sudan since 1989 to exterminate the worm once and for all.
He said that when they started their project in southern Sudan they found more than 100,000 cases of infection.
"Last year we had about 2,500 cases, and we believe that in the next two or three years we will have zero cases of Guinea worm in Sudan," he said during a mid-February visit to Lojura where he met worm-infected villagers.
Infections worldwide have been cut by 99 per cent from around 3.9 million people in 1986 to 3,500 in 2009, according to the World Health Organisation.
Now the worms are found only in small and isolated pockets of Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia, with its final main stronghold in grossly underdeveloped south Sudan.
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