Nigeria: Elephantiasis – Dealing With the Neglected and Incurable Disease

Jos — Rakiya Ahmad, lives in Anguwan Rogo, Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State and she suffers from a disease she has realised has no cure.

Her right leg is swollen and she now knows that the swelling and bouts of fever, she experiences is not arthritis but a disease called lymphatic filariasis, popularly known as elephantiasis.

“I think my leg would have been bigger than this if not for the treatment I started seven years ago. There were signs that my other leg was getting infected but I think the drugs helped,” she said.

Ahmad said the illness started with a fever some time during the 2001 crises in Jos. 15 years after, she is still living with the disease, and still suffers from recurrent fevers.

She said: “Once the fever starts, I can’t stand on my leg and I will need as many as five blankets to cover up. But as the fever starts to subside, the leg becomes very itchy and when I try to scratch it, I feel like I’m being stung by an insect. Gradually the skin on the leg then sheds off but the skin is very, very thick.”

She is however happy that the swelling on her leg is not as grotesque as others she has seen, such as Hamisu Isa who has dragged his elephantiasis left leg for about 30 years. Isa serves as the chairman of those who suffer from the disease in Plateau State but says his disease was as a result of a fracture to his left knee following a car accident in 1985.

The disease known as lymphatic filariasis is classified under Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) caused by a parasite which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Experts say the parasite also known as Wuchereria bancrofti lives in the lymphatic system of victims and causes blockages to the return of fluids to the circulatory system.

With repeated infection, carriers of the parasite suffer from periodic fever, and pains in the muscles which leads to severe limb and genital swelling, a condition popularly called elephantiasis.

The Carter Centre, a foundation established by a former United States president ,Jimmy Carter and based in Jos is known for its works on Neglected Tropical Diseases including lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis (River blindness), malaria, bilharzia and stomach worms.

Though Rakiya Ahmad was told that mosquito is the transmitter of the parasite, she says she sometimes wonders if other people’s insinuation that her illness is spiritual is actually true.

For Isa, he doubts that mosquito was a contributing factor to his accident but admits that the car that hit him in 1985 had pushed him into an old refuse dump where the likelihood of being bitten by a carrying mosquito is high.

The centre’s director of integrated programmes in Plateau and Nasarawa states, Dr. Abel Eigege who is also an expert on lymphatic filariasis says based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting of International Task Force for disease eradication in 2011, Nigeria is estimated to have the highest population at risk of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

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