Eradication efforts against global disease will be the focus of an exhibition

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An educational comic book captures the attention of Guinea-worm patients in Ghana, 2007. The Carter Center/L. Gubb

The exhibition Countdown to Zero will show successful strategies of eliminating devastating diseases and explain how they can bring about  social and economic benefits. The exhibition will open at the American Museum of Natural History on January 13, 2015 and remain on view until July 12, 2015.

It was developed in collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History and  The Carter Center, and focuses on several global efforts that have been able to contain, eliminate, or eradicate disease. Chief among these is the 30-year campaign that may eradicate Guinea worm disease. The exhibition also highlights the ongoing programs to eliminate polio and prospects for more localized elimination of river blindness, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.

Countdown to Zero draws on a core area of the Museum’s scientific research: the diversity of microbial life.  This work is increasingly integral to the study of human health as the lessons learned from non-human evolution can be used to help medical researchers understand the origin, evolution, and diversity of disease-spreading parasites and microbes, such as malaria, as well as how these organisms have adapted to humans.

One of the diseases highlighted in the exhibition is the Guinea worm parasite Dracunculus medinensis, which is transmitted in contaminated drinking water. Although a distant memory in many places on Earth, Guinea worm disease has plagued humanity for thousands of years, striking the infected with debilitating wounds that can render them incapable of caring for themselves or their children, working, attending school, or growing crops to feed their families. 

Countdown to Zero will show visitors how eradication efforts have broken devastating disease cycles. The successful fight against smallpox, led by intensive vaccination efforts, was followed by the vaccination campaign to eradicate polio, underway since 1988. Like many infectious diseases in conflict zones, polio, which mainly infects children and can lead to permanent paralysis or death, is again resurgent after reaching an all-time low in 2012.

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Monica Ngabirano works with the Uganda Ministry of Health lab that tests blood samples and evidence of river blindness. Kapala, Uganda, 2012. The Carter Center/K. Hinton

The exhibition also will highlight elimination efforts against lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis) and river blindness (onchocerciasis), which affect tens of millions of people. These diseases are caused by parasitic worms that are transmitted by bites of mosquitoes and black flies, respectively. Prevention includes the distribution of insecticidal bed nets for lymphatic filariasis and the mass administration of safe, effective, and donated drugs for both diseases.

Finally, Countdown to Zero will look toward the future possibility of eradicating malaria. Although a number of antimalarial strategies and tools are available now to control the parasites that cause malaria, new strategies and tools are being sought to realize a time when it too could be eradicated. Research efforts include vaccine development, new insecticides, and genetic modification of the mosquitos to prevent them from being capable of transmitting the parasite.

Watch the video about the eradication campaing of Guinea worm, which will be part of the exhibition:



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