Kuse Dam, Terekeka County, South Sudan. Young goat herders prepare to drink dam water through a filtration pipe provided by The Carter Center in its efforts to eradicate guinea worm. Photo Credit: The Carter Center / L. Gubb

The Carter Center in Atlanta has won a prestigious prize in Japan for its long-time commitment and substantial progress toward the eradication of Guinea worm disease in Africa

The Japanese government announced Wednesday in Tokyo that it had selected the nonprofit founded by former President Jimmy Carter for the fourth Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize in the medical services category.

After a nomination emanating from Atlanta, The Carter Center made it into the committee’s slate of finalists and was selected ultimately by the Japanese prime minister, who makes the final decision on the prize. It’s unclear whether the selection was made by the current prime minister, Fumio Kishida, or his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who decided not to run in last October’s election. The prize comes with an honorarium of 100 million yen (nearly $750,000 at the current exchange rate), which the Carter Center says will be fully contributed toward the goal of eradication. 

Since 1989, Japan has been a funder of the focused campaign led by the Carter Center to rid the world of a parasitic disease that afflicted 3.5 million across the continent in 1986, when the initiative began. The Carter Center has placed a strong emphasis on so-called “neglected tropical diseases” in its global health work.

Relying on national health ministries, multilateral agencies like the World Health Organization and help from on-the-ground non-governmental organizations, a continent-wide effort sustained for nearly 40 years has reduced the number of Guinea worm cases to just 15 last year across four African countries.

Perhaps most impactful, the partners have prevented an estimated 80 million more cases through a fervent focus on training villagers about hand-washing hygiene and water filtration methods, helping stem transition at the source in rivers and streams where they fetch water. Guinea worm is now on the verge of being only the second disease ever eradicated after smallpox and the first without the use of vaccines or medication.

The award comes amid a sort of renaissance in The Carter Center’s relations with Japan, which has nurtured deep connections with the country since Mr. Carter’s time as Georgia governor in the 1970s, when he welcomed the first Japanese investments into the state.

YKK, the zipper manufacturer that opened the pioneering Japanese factory in Georgia, nominated the center for the Noguchi Prize, the latest sign of the company’s commitment to the Georgia-Japan relationship. YKK also backs an internship program at the Carter Center and was at the center of sister-city relationships between the Georgia cities of Macon and Dublin, both home to YKK plants, and their respective relationships with Kurobe, YKK’s hometown, and Osaki, where it operates a massive architectural products facility.

Another moment to reflect on Georgia-Japan ties came with the groundbreaking for a traditional Japanese bell tower on the grounds of The Carter Center in July. The ceremony, complete with a blessing by Zen Buddhist priests, marked the official beginning of construction on what backers of the grassroots initiative see as a physical monument to Georgia-Japan friendship. Donate here

The Peace Bell, as it’s now known, is a temple bell that was supposed to have been melted down for ammunition during World War II but somehow emerged unscathed. It was eventually purchased for President Carter by the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta in 1984 and has sat in the lobby of the Carter Center since. See more about the bell here or in this Global Atlanta story

Earlier this year, Global Atlanta held a Consular Conversation luncheon with Japanese Consul General Kazuyuki Takeuchi at the center, allowing attendees to see the bell and hear from YKK Vice President and Japan-America Society of Georgia Chair Jessica Cork about the plans for the Peace Bell tower.

During that discussion, Mr. Kazuyuki spoke at length about Japan’s philosophy on development assistance around the world, including in Africa, and Carter Center Senior Associate Director of Principal Gifts for Asia Meagan Martz outlined the Japanese government’s steadfast support of the center’s work in Africa, on Guinea worm and beyond. Japan International Cooperation Agency, the country’s aid agency, has also supported the center’s work to bolster the mental health care infrastructure in Liberia.

I have had a pleasure working with The Carter Center on multiple initiatives such as the Peace Bell project since I became a Consul General in Atlanta, so I had no second thought about giving my full support for the nomination of the Guinea Worm Eradication Program for the fourth Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize,” Mr. Takeuchi said in a statement sent to Global Atlanta. “I am filled with joy today to have heard the news that they have been chosen as an awardee of this prestigious award. My heartfelt congratulations go to The Carter Center and the program members on the ground on this outstanding achievement and I look forward to working with The Carter Center on many other endeavors down the road.

Concurrently with the Carter Center, the Noguchi Prize for Africa in the medical research category went to Dr. Salim S. Abdool Karim and Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim for their “global contributions to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment through scientifically rigorous research, for their role in training African scientists and for their steadfast scientific leadership in the response to COVID-19 in Africa.”

Learn more about the laureates in the Japan Cabinet Office’s news release. Find out more on the Carter Center’s website here.

Carter Center Chair Jason Carter accepted a lifetime achievement award from the Japan-America Society of Georgia on behalf of former President Carter last December.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...