News / Africa

New Strategy Aims to Eradicate Elephantiasis

Philip Graitcer
The tropical disease known as lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, affects 120 million people worldwide.

The devastating parasitic illness causes lymphedema, in which legs, arms and genitals swell to enormous size. Now, a new public health strategy, tested in Nigeria, is raising hopes that this crippling disease can soon be eradicated.

In the quiet of a courtyard in the northern Nigerian city of Jos, a dozen people sit in a circle on white plastic chairs, talking about their affliction: lymphatic filariasis, an infectious disease also known as elephantiasis. John Umaru, the group leader, made the introductions.

"This is the Jos lymphedema support group, also known as Hope Group," Umaru said. "It is an association of people who are already suffering from lymphedema or elephantiasis, which is a chronic stage of the lymphedema. They meet here regularly so they will share experiences and share some ideas on how people have survived with this condition."
Hamisu Isa has suffered from lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, for more than two decades. (VOA/P. Graitcer)Hamisu Isa has suffered from lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, for more than two decades. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
x
Hamisu Isa has suffered from lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, for more than two decades. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
Hamisu Isa has suffered from lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, for more than two decades. (VOA/P. Graitcer)
Lymphatic filariasis (LF) isn’t fatal, but the grotesque and often painful swelling never goes away, and those who develop elephantiasis face the lifelong stigma of disfigurement.

Hamisu Isa, a member of the Hope Group, is a big man, dressed in a brilliant blue robe and brown turban. Isa has had LF for about 25 years. His left leg is enlarged.

He comes to the Hope Group to learn how to take care of his leg and to cope with his deformity. Umaru translated as Isa describes his rigorous daily care routine.

"He soaks his leg inside a bucket full of water and then now wash with soap, and then use this towel to dry the skin after that he now applies some Vaseline ointment, and then he now goes to his working place," Umaru said. "At the working place, he is very careful so that he doesn’t get injured. After work he comes home, he washes again, and then apply the same ointment, and then he will sit and raise his legs."
 
Fortunately, Isa may be among the last people here to suffer from lymphatic filariasis. The Nigeria Ministry of Health and the Carter Center, a philanthropic research institute established by former US. president Jimmy Carter, announced recently that they have successfully stopped the transmission of LF in this part of the country.

Nigeria has the world’s third highest number of lymphatic filariasis cases, after India and Indonesia. LF is spread from person to person by a mosquito bite, which transmits tiny parasitic worms called microfilaria into the victim’s bloodstream.

Dr. Adel Egege, who directs the Carter Center’s LF prevention program in Jos, explained how the disease progresses.

“These adult worms block the lymph system. It results in an accumulation of fluid," Egege said. "This accumulation…could be in the arm, in the leg, in the scrotum. And we call it elephantiasis because the…area is roughened and thickens out like the skin of the elephant. It looks rough and tough.”

Egege said the Carter Center, working with the local health department, has been running what’s called a mass drug administration, giving two anti-parasitic drugs to everyone in the region, and distributing mosquito-proof bed nets to most families to prevent the nighttime insect bites.

That combination of the drugs and bed nets  blocked the spread of the LF parasites, effectively eradicating the disease in the test area.

"With the mass drug administration, we had substantially removed all the infection, but with nets added for two years, we have not seen any worms in the mosquitoes," Egege said.

The results of the pilot program have been so promising, said Egege, that the Nigerian government is planning to expand the program throughout the entire country.

Carter Center and Nigerian health officials are hopeful that, with a nationwide campaign, LF could be gone from Nigeria within six to 10 years, sparing future generations its terrible consequences.

When that day comes, though, there will be no relief for those already stricken with lymphatic filariasis, people like Hamisu Isa and members of the Hope Group. But  their permanent disfigurements will be dramatic reminders of this bygone tropical scourge.

You May Like

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs