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World-wide reach of The Carter Center touches South Hillsborough

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image Microphone in hand, Dr. Hal Ott, (center) Ruskin veterinarian, fielded questions during The Carter Center presentation in his Apollo Beach home. Photo Melody Jameson

Over the years, peace and health initiatives have been undertaken in some 70 countries, large and small, across the planet.

By MELODY JAMESON

APOLLO BEACH — Individual drinking filters inhibiting water contaminates and bed netting to ward off insects – the simple but successful tools employed in The Carter Center’s humanitarian health efforts – on Saturday helped introduce some 60 South County residents to the strange world of the Guinea worm and limbs that blow up like balloons.

They assembled around the pool and piano in the Symphony Isles home of Dr. Hal Ott, Ruskin veterinarian, to hear the first South County presentation by representatives of the world-wide, non-profit charitable organization established by President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter after they left the White House.

As the assemblage sampled trays of finger foods and beverages, Delita Marsland, senior associate director affiliated with the center’s development arm, explained the multiple endeavors fielded by The Carter Center that implement its mission “to Wage Peace, Fight Disease and Build Hope.”

Now observing its 30th anniversary, the center was founded in 1982 by the Carters in Atlanta where it functions in partnership with Emory University and focuses on three primary but multi-pronged activities – encouraging and monitoring foreign attempts at conducting democratic elections as well as controlling or eradicating some of the world’s most debilitating diseases, plus advocating for mental health services.

Over the years, these peace and health initiatives have been undertaken in some 70 countries, large and small, across the planet, Marsland said. They include monitoring more than 90 elections in 37 nations and, with access to leaders at high levels, multiple efforts to mediate or resolve armed conflicts.

Conducting health education programs and distributing medications produced by major U.S. pharmaceutical firms, the center’s disease fighting endeavors have zeroed in on the parasitic eye infection known as river blindness spread by a small black fly, on trichiasis which causes eyelashes to turn inward, on schistosomiasis or “snail fever” spread by a parasite whose eggs tear internal organs, on malaria, the fever spread by mosquitoes, on lymphatic filariasis which can lead to grotesquely swollen limbs and on guinea worm disease, the ancient affliction that can produce worms three feet in length erupting painfully from the body through blisters on the skin.

Today, however, Guinea worm disease is poised to become only the second ailment to be eliminated from the earth without vaccines or medications, Marsland asserted. And she demonstrated one of the low-tech methods used by The Carter Center to reduce the disease from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 1,100 in 2011 – a hand held, heavy duty straw with a fine mesh screen in one end and a whistle -like mouthpiece at the other that filters parasitic larvae from contaminated drinking water.

Similarly, the center has helped protect untold numbers with distribution of bed nets that bar disease-carrying insects from sleeping families, Marsland noted. Campaigns to stamp out the common ailments also currently are ongoing in such places as Uganda and Niger, Ghana and Ethiopia, she added.

The center, which played a prominent role in drafting the United Nations’ Declaration of Principles for International Observances, most recently also witnessed the 2011-2012 series of Egypt’s first free elections in the post-Hosni-Mubarak era. Led by Jimmy Carter himself, the delegation ultimately described the process an important step forward for the country and found shortcomings in some of its council election procedures. The center also observed November, 2011, elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, labeling them “not credible” and then monitored December, 2011, processes in Cote d’Ivoire, noting a generally peaceful voting environment, encouraging the government to pursue a dialogue of national reconciliation, then suggesting some election reforms.

While most of The Carter Center’s efforts are focused in poor and emerging nations outside U.S. borders, its mental health services advocacy led by Rosalynn Carter is America-based. The center’s initiative tries to identify concrete action steps to improve both access to and quality of mental health care.

Ott, the presentation host and a member of The Carter Center’s Ambassadors Circle, is no stranger to humanitarian endeavors. The veterinarian founded C.A.R. E., the South County’s only no-kill animal shelter, maintains Ruskin’s dog park, has made several mission trips to Haiti and currently is an investor in a Haitian micro-lending cooperative which lends capital to island farmers in $40 increments, enabling them to produce a variety of crops for sale in the village market or in Port-au-Prince. The reward, he said, is “the joy that comes from giving. I don’t expect to be repaid.”

His guests agreed. Before saying their good-byes, they donated or pledged a total of $7,500 to The Carter Center.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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