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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs