Okello Aballa Ognum regularly has to walk deep into the jungles of southwest Ethiopia to treat the water ponds that harbor a debilitating parasitic disease.

Painstakingly, he measures the water volume to determine how much chemical treatment to use against copepods, the tiny water fleas that carry the Guinea worm larvae.

If ingested by humans, the larvae can grow up to a meter long before emerging through the skin, leading to serious disability and amputation in the worst cases.

Killing them is only part of Okello's job — he also teaches the community about the dangers of drinking unfiltered pond water.

"We tell them we are [treating] the ponds, but we are not killing all the copepods," the 24-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Gog district in Ethiopia's Gambella region.

"Don't think that since this pond was [treated], we can drink, it is free."

Guinea worm afflicted 3.5 million people 35 years ago. But only 27 human cases were reported in 2020, most in Ethiopia and Chad, according to the Carter Center, the organization set up by Jimmy Carter that leads the international eradication campaign.

That was 50% less than in 2019, and the 96-year-old former US president has said he hopes to live to see the last case of Guinea worm, which would be only the second disease after smallpox to be eradicated in human history.

Adam Weiss, director of the Carter Center's Guinea worm eradication program, said the community-centered approach had been key to success in tackling a disease for which there is no vaccine or treatment.

"The program doesn't exist without community ownership, without community involvement and leadership," he said.

"And the places where [it] has been the most successful ... are where there were dynamic community leaders, dynamic community volunteers."

Read the full article about neglected tropical diseases by Emeline Wuilbercq at Global Citizen.