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Carter Parlays Former Presidency
into Bully Pulpit for Humanitarian Aid
39th President Speaks to Invited Guests at UCSD

By Ioana Patringenaru | June 26, 2006

President Carter spoke Friday at UCSD
President Carter spoke Friday at UCSD.

A PVC pipe with a cloth filter keeps harmful parasites out of drinking water. A net prepped with pesticide wards off mosquitoes that spread malaria. Latrines keep at bay trachoma, a disease that causes blindness.

More than 25 years after leaving the White House, President Jimmy Carter now is fighting disease, one simple solution at a time. During an hour-long appearance Friday at UCSD, Carter took his audience on a verbal guided tour of the work of The Carter Center, a non-profit organization he founded with his wife, Rosalynn, in 1982.

“In America, we generally think of human rights as things guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and so forth freedom of religion,” he said. “But in many countries, those things are not that important when the children are starving. The right of a human being to live in peace, the right of a human being to have a decent shelter at night, the right of a human being to have some modicum of education and health care is also a human right.”

UC Regent and Padres owner John Moores, who also chairs The Carter Center’s board of trustees, invited the former president to speak at the La Jolla Playhouse, for an audience of about 350 invited guests.

“He’s made more of a difference in the world that anybody I know,” Moores said Friday.

Click here to watch a video of President Carter’s speech.
The speech also will run on UCSD-TV at 7 p.m. on July 21,
8 p.m. on July 17, 23 and 31, 10 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 6 p.m. on Aug. 4

To find UCSD on your dial, go to www.ucsd.tv

Related links:
The Carter Center

The Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies co-sponsored the event. Carter was in San Diego to raise money for his son, Jack, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Nevada. The former president talked about the center’s efforts to eradicate disease, improve agriculture and promote democracy. The organization works in some of the world’s poorest and most remote regions.

“It’s inconceivable,” he said. “You don’t have anything left over for healthcare, for education, or for self-respect, or for human dignity, for hope. And that’s what we’re trying to address.”

For example, the center is well on its way to eradicating Guinea worm, Moores said. In 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases reported worldwide. In 2005, there were only about 10,600 cases. Moores had brought one of the parasites, which looks like a long strand of angel hair pasta, in a jar. The worms grow under their victim’s skin, causing painful and debilitating swelling. 

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, UC Regent John Moores and Carter at the end of the event.
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, UC Regent John Moores and Carter at the end of the event.

Carter said he will never forget the first Guinea worm case he saw. He was touring a village of 500 people in Ghana. He saw a 19- or 20-year-old woman, who looked like she was carrying a child in her arms. But close up, it turned out that her right breast was horribly swollen and a worm was making its way out through the nipple. Filtering water and health education are key to eradicating Guinea worm. That’s where the PVC pipe with filtering cloth comes in. So far, the number of Guinea worm cases has dropped by 99.7 percent, Carter said.

The center also is waging battle against trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. In that battle, improving sanitation is key, Carter said. So the center taught villagers in Africa to build latrines. The hope was to build about five thousand, he said. But he was in for a surprise. Women in Ethiopia took a proactive role in the project and they have built about 286,000 latrines so far. Carter joked that he can now call himself the “greatest builder of outdoor toilets in the world.”

Next on the center’s list is malaria, Carter added. The disease, often transmitted through mosquito bites, has been out of control, killing millions in Africa and Asia. A bed net soaked with pesticide is one of the best ways to keep malaria at bay, Carter said. But until recently nets needed to be re-impregnated every year. Now, there are pesticide-infused nets that last seven to eight years, he said. The center is currently in talks with Ethiopia to create a pilot program to eradicate malaria in that country, he said.

The Carter Center works on two levels, he also explained. First, Carter lobbies top government officials to support the center’s programs. Then, a small number of foreigners train local workers, who do most of the work.

“It gives them a sense of ownership, of self-respect, of human dignity,” he said.

UC Regent Moores shows the audience a Guinea worm in a jar
UC Regent Moores shows the audience a Guinea worm in a jar.

Carter also spent some time taking questions from the audience, mostly about the center’s monitoring of elections throughout the world and the Bush administration’s policies. Carter’s talk earned rave reviews from many in the audience. The center has a remarkable ability to find simple solutions that benefit many, said Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldana. Carter’s speech was an inspiration, said Heather Berkman, who just graduated from the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. Many in her generation aren’t aware of his work, she said.

At the end of the talk, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox echoed these comments, calling Carter a hero.  

“Thank you for your visit and for your inspiration,” she told the former president.

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