Health, work el­e­vated Jimmy Carter post-pres­i­dency


To Azaratu Zakaria, Jimmy Carter’s bat­tle against the Guinea worm is rep­re­sented by a scar.

Zakaria was the last per­son to be de­clared dis­ease-free in Ghana af­ter more than 20 years of work spear­headed by the for­mer pres­i­dent’s hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion, The Carter Cen­ter. Zakaria, who is in her 40s, said she and her fam­ily have prayed ev­ery day since Carter an­nounced this month that can­cer has spread to his brain and forced him to scale back his work.

“There is no one in my house­hold who does not have the Guinea worm scar and for this rea­son, ev­ery time we think of the work he came to do to free us all from the dis­ease,” Zakaria said through a trans­la­tor. “He has done a lot of good work and for that, we shall al­ways re­mem­ber him.”

From its found­ing, Carter in­sisted that the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cus on work that oth­ers would not tackle, in­clud­ing the Guinea-worm erad­i­ca­tion pro­ject, which cut the num­ber of cases of the dis­ease from 3.5 mil­lion in 1986 to 126 in 2014.

A for­mer U.S. pres­i­dent of­ten ea­ger to travel and see the prob­lem first- hand lent im­me­di­ate cred­i­bil­ity. The cen­ter is now known world­wide for its work on a num­ber of trop­i­cal dis­eases and as a cred­i­ble coun­tercheck to dic­ta­tors through elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing. His hu­man­i­tar­ian work earned him the 2002 No­bel Peace Prize.

In Nepal, for in­stance, Carter mon­i­tored an elec­tion af­ter pro- democ­racy protests forced King Gya­nen­dra to give up his au­thor­i­tar­ian rule in 2006. The Carter Cen­ter’s staff also opened re­gional of­fices and as­sisted for years with ef­forts to write a con­sti­tu­tion, de­spite one failed ef­fort and sev­eral post­poned elec­tions.

“He was the Amer­i­can leader who al­ways held Nepal close to his heart,” gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Narayan Prakash Saud said. “Both Nepali peo­ple and the gov­ern­ment will al­ways re­mem­ber the con­tri­bu­tions he made for Nepal. He was the bridge to con­nect peo­ple from Nepal with the United States.”

When the op­po­si­tion Maoist party lead­ers saw they would lose the 2013 elec­tion, Carter qui­etly con­vinced them to ac­cept it.

‘In­cal­cu­la­ble’ Con­tri­bu­tions

He took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach dur­ing the cen­ter’s first elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing trip, to Panama in 1989. Carter dis­cov­ered that the fal­si­fied re­sults would give Gen. Manuel Nor­iega’s can­di­date the vic­tory. He climbed on a stage and shouted in Span­ish: “Are you hon­est of­fi­cials or thieves?” ac­cord­ing to his 2007 book “Be­yond the White House.”

Ex­perts in the field say Carter’s work put the in­tegrity of elec­tions un­der a mi­cro­scope and es­tab­lished elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing as a se­ri­ous and pro­fes­sional in­dus­try.

“Pres­i­dent Carter’s con­tri­bu­tions to peace and democ­racy in the world have been in­cal­cu­la­ble,” said Eric Bjorn­lund, pres­i­dent of Democ­racy In­ter­na­tional, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­motes democ­racy glob­ally.

Carter’s health has been watched closely since May, when he re­turned early from his 39th elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing trip and the cen­ter’s 100th. Dur­ing a fol­low-up exam, doc­tors dis­cov­ered a mass on his liver that was re­moved in Au­gust and de­ter­mined to be melanoma.

In the mean­time, the 90-year-old Carter kept work­ing. In mid-June, he an­nounced re­ceipt of a US$10 mil­lion do­na­tion to fight another dis­ease that few are tar­get­ing.

River blind­ness dis­ease can lead to loss of sight, along with a rash or skin dis­col­oration, when bit­ing black flies trans­mit lar­vae. Carter of­fered a glimpse of how in­ti­mately he is in­volved in these projects, easily recit­ing sta­tis­tics to re­porters and ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion over med­i­ca­tion get­ting stuck in African or Latin Amer­i­can ports.

“I’ve had to go through some- times three dif­fer­ent pres­i­dents and get them to call their cus­toms of­fi­cials to let the medicine go through,” Carter said, prompt­ing smiles from staffers in the room.

Of­fi­cials at The Carter Cen­ter say they will move for­ward smoothly thanks to years of prepa­ra­tion.

The cen­ter’s cash bud­get is more than US$100 mil­lion, with 180 staffers and hun­dreds of ex­perts, Carter wrote in his latest book. The Carter Cen­ter’s en­dow­ment stands at US$600 mil­lion, and last March trustees voted his grand­son, Jason Carter, to be­come board chair­man in Novem­ber.

“I have no in­ten­tion of try­ing to fill his shoes,” said Jason Carter, a for­mer Ge­or­gia state sen­a­tor. “This is his legacy that he has built and I have no in­ten­tion of try­ing to be Jimmy Carter to this foun­da­tion.”


In this Aug. 23 file photo, for­mer Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, sits to pose for photos af­ter teach­ing Sun­day School class at Maranatha Bap­tist Church in his home­town, Plains, Ge­or­gia.

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