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

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition 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.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs