The Carter Center, a nonprofit organization run by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, said Friday that it had helped eliminate elephantiasis, a disfiguring tropical disease, from two states in Nigeria where the problem was at its worst.
Dr. Yisa Saka of Nigeria's Federal Ministry of Health said in the Carter Center's announcement, "This is a great day for the people of Plateau and Nasarawa states, and all of Nigeria." He called the disease, also known as lymphatic filariasis, "a terrible disease that has plagued good people for far too long."
The World Health Association classified elephantiasis as a "neglected tropical disease." In areas threatened by the disease, people must take annual doses of preventive drugs to keep the parasitic infection from spreading.
Damages lymphatic system
Elephantiasis, transmitted by mosquitoes, causes damage to the lymphatic system, often in childhood, where it can remain hidden for years. Years later, the resulting swelling, which can be significant, can cause physical disability as well as social stigma. Asymptomatic infection can remain invisible but cause damage to the lymphatic system and kidneys, affecting the body's immune system.
Experts say more than 120 million people in Nigeria live in at-risk areas. Only India has more people at risk of catching the disease, which often causes its victims social isolation and poverty.
"Eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem in Plateau and Nasarawa states is a significant achievement that challenges everyone to broaden their appreciation of what is possible," said Dr. Frank Richards of the Carter Center. "Success in these two states not only protects the 7 million people who live there, but it also sets a pattern for similar success throughout the rest of Nigeria, as well as in other highly endemic countries."
Dr. Gregory Noland of the Carter Center said health professionals have been working for years to eradicate the disease in Plateau and Nasarawa, through drug treatment and use of bed nets to ward off mosquitoes at night. Testing of more than 14,000 children over the past two years has not discovered any new infections.
The milestone is seen as a step toward eradicating the disease altogether. It is one of seven diseases the Carter Center has named as potentially eradicable.