Foul Water / Fiery Serpent

An inspiring story of an epic health challenge, FOUL WATER/FIERY SERPENT follows dedicated field workers engaged in a final battle to eradicate the horrific Guinea worm disease in Africa.

Sigourney Weaver

Narrated by Sigourney Weaver

For thousands of years the Guinea worm parasite (Dracunculus medinensis) has caused disabling misery, infecting people who drink water contaminated with the worm’s larvae. After growing inside the victim for a year, the adult worm, up to three feet long, emerges from the body through an agonizing skin blister that can incapacitate and cripple. The disease spreads when blisters are immersed in water and the worm releases its larvae, continuing its life cycle. There is no cure for this disease, and the only treatment is wrapping the worm around a stick and pulling it out, inch by inch, every day, for weeks.

In 1986 there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm in 20 countries in Africa and Asia. But after a 23-year eradication campaign led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, the total number of Guinea worm cases had been reduced to less than 3,200 at the end of 2009, concentrated in Ghana and Sudan. The end of this terrible disease is now finally within reach.

For nearly three years, FOUL WATER / FIERY SERPENT tracks determined teams of men and women as they fight the closing skirmishes to wipe out the last Guinea worms in Ghana and Sudan. Attacking the parasites where they thrive – in poor, remote villages that rely on contaminated water – they distribute filter cloths, treat water sources with safe pesticide, educate villagers about avoiding the worms, and treat victims suffering from the disease.

Through a relentless cycle of successes and failures, facing ignorance and superstition in a vast landscape ravaged by war, the heroes in this story are making medical history in an epic struggle to drive an ancient enemy into extinction.

Following the victory against smallpox, Guinea worm is likely to be the next disease in the history of mankind to be eradicated from the Earth.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died...”

Numbers 21:4-9

What were the mysterious “fiery serpents” that the Bible says were sent by God to bite the people led by Moses out of Egypt? Parasitologists say they might have been Guinea worms (Dracunculus medinensis).

Guinea worms would have been present in the region at the time of the Exodus, as they were until recently. The female worms are large and cause excruciating pain when breaking through the skin to release their larvae, so it is easy to understand how they could be called “fiery serpents”.

According to the Bible, the Israelites suffered from drought. This would have facilitated the transmission of the disease by concentrating worm larvae, intermediate hosts (copepods) and infected humans at remaining water sources.

In 1986 there were an estimated 3.5 million cases of Guinea worm in 20 countries in Africa and Asia. But after a 23-year eradication campaign led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Atlanta-based Carter Center, the total number of Guinea worm cases has been reduced more than 99.9%, with cases largely concentrated in South Sudan. The end of this terrible disease is now finally within reach.

For nearly three years, FOUL WATER / FIERY SERPENT tracks determined teams of men and women as they fight the closing skirmishes to wipe out the last Guinea worms in Ghana and Sudan. Attacking the parasites where they thrive – in poor, remote villages that rely on contaminated water – they distribute filter cloths, treat water sources with safe pesticide, educate villagers about avoiding the worms, and treat victims suffering from the disease.

Through a relentless cycle of successes and failures, facing ignorance and superstition in a vast landscape ravaged by war, the heroes in this story are making medical history in an epic struggle to drive an ancient enemy into extinction.

Following the victory against smallpox, Guinea worm is likely to be the next disease in the history of mankind to be eradicated from the Earth.