Lymphatic filariasis (LF), a condition known as “elephantiasis” that can lead to the severe and debilitating swelling of the arm or the leg, is considered one of the most disabling diseases for those affected. In Haiti, the condition is present in 118 of 135 communities, which leaves 88% of the country as a potential risk zone. It is classed as a “neglected tropical disease;” although it has long disappeared from industrialized countries, it remains a severe threat for those living in developing regions of the world.
Mass Drug Administration (MDA) was achieved on a national level in Haiti in 2012, with many of the endemic regions having taken part in the program for at least four years. The LF infection can be prevented and treated with a combination of medicines – a single dose of Albendazole and Diethylcarbamazine Citrate – that cost about 50 cents per person each year. The World Health Organization recommends that the drugs are taken for five years in order to stop transmission of the disease, but acknowledges that it is just as important to address the emotional effects of the infection, as it is the physical.
Haiti’s MDA program is now up for assessment; while the project has been successful in reducing transmission, applying the concept to Haiti has been challenging. Extreme poverty, periodic social unrest, and depleted health system infrastructure have persisted as roadblocks to the program. Now, a more holistic approach is being taken by the disability charity, CBM. In partnership with the University of Notre Dame and Hospital St. Croix, CBM is addressing the unmet need of those who already have LF; by setting up self-help groups, they are empowering patients through self-care education, and psychological and emotional support. These clubs meet twice a month and participants receive information about self-care, hygiene and basic limb care. All members receive a hygiene kit, which includes alcohol swabs and antiseptic soaps to clean their feet.
The CBM program combines global heath research and education and puts the two elements into practice; not only does it help prevent LF, but it provides care for those affected by it. Community programs, such as the one provided by CBM, addresses issues other than the physical disability, by promoting inclusion and tackling the stigma for people suffering from clinical manifestations of LF. This comprehensive partnership complements the MDA program and is a crucial mechanism in the fight to address, prevent, and eliminate elephantiasis in Haiti.
– Chloe Isacke