Elephantiasis refers to the enlargement and hardening of limbs or body parts due to the swelling of tissue. In simple terms, someone has elephantiasis when a part of their body swells abnormally more than the rest of the body. A patient with this medical condition shares their experience living with elephantiasis. They simply woke up one day to their feet swollen. The swelling gradually progressed to their legs. Having swollen legs is very embarrassing and people look at them in a weird way.
One example after seeking medical help for months, one patient was diagnosed with elephantiasis, which is scientifically known as lymphatic filariasis (FL). This disfiguring disease occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. This patient stated that the discrimination and stigmatization that they have to battle has a psychological effect. They contracted the disease at a very tender age and they remember having to summon courage daily to attend school or go to new places now in tertiary institutions. It affects their education and social interaction with others. Sometimes, they even needed assistance to stand up.
Treatment in the form of drugs to kill the filarial parasite in blood.
The patient is presenting taking medication and happy that the treatment gives some hope that the legs will not swell more than it is now or infect others. Although elephantiasis currently has no cure, the patient is receiving treatment in the form of drugs to kill the filarial parasite in her blood and stop the swelling. The LF medications are provided by the Nigerian Government with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), Merck and GSK. The drugs are distributed across all the 583 endemic Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country.
This disease is one of the 20 diverse Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which affects more than 120 million people in 72 countries in Asia, Africa, the Western Pacific, parts of the Caribbean, and South America. According to WHO, NTDs thrive mainly in rural areas, conflict zones and hard-to-reach regions. These are places where access to clean water and environment is rare and worsened by climate change. As of the most endemic countries, Nigeria accounts for 25 percent of the NTD burden in Africa. Presently, 15 of these 20 diseases are identified in Nigeria. Through concerted efforts, one of the NTDs (Guinea worm) has since been eliminated.
WHO’s roadmap for eliminating NTD and attaining SDGs.
In January 2021, WHO announced its 10-year roadmap for eliminating NTD, with ambitious targets and innovative approaches to tackling the diseases. This step is geared towards the plan to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. WHO Nigeria and its partners has collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Health to develop a more robust roadmap at subnational levels that does not neglect the case management of NTDs, the human resource aspects and the programmatic components.
The National Coordinator of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Nse Akpan, said that the elimination of all forms of NTDs will reduce poverty and increase productivity in the country. He said that NTDs affect a nation’s productivity because they have a critically adverse effect on the people infected by any of them. Eliminating these diseases will reduce malnutrition and increase child enrollment in school. It will also reduce morbidity and disability, and increase food production in the country as well as promote good mental health and well-being of citizens.
Eliminating NTDs will reduce malnutrition and poverty.
Disease tends to affect regions without quality healthcare. These people are consequently left vulnerable to these debilitating diseases. However, they can be effectively controlled, eliminated or eradicated through combined public health measures, effective treatment and community sensitization. Eliminating these diseases will reduce the rate of poverty in the country because the affected people will not have to spend all their money on treatment and drugs. Children and young adults will also have the opportunity to go to school or their vocational centers without stress.