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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs