"There is huge excitement and euphoria here," says Makoy Samuel Yibi, phoning from Juba in Southern Sudan. There, this week's referendum vote looks set to divide Sudan into independent north and south countries, potentially ending decades of civil war. The result is largely a foregone conclusion: independence will be announced officially in February.
At the same time, as it does every February, Southern Sudan will report the year's first cases of a painful and ancient disease: guinea worm. But this could be the last time. Besides creating a new country, this week's vote could make guinea worm the second human disease – after smallpox – to be eradicated.
War and neglect have made Southern Sudan the worm's last stronghold. "If the political situation remains stable, we can stop it in 2012," says Makoy, director of the Southern Sudan ministry of health's guinea worm eradication programme.