Standing up to one of Ethiopia’s most cruelest diseases
— Today, April 17th, is World Hemophilia Day, which brings to mind something that still haunts me most about my trip to Ethiopia.
Today I want to acknowledge that we now have a day to raise awareness for malaria, and a day for TB, a day for hemophilia, and a day for HIV. However, we yet have a day to address one of Ethiopia’s most painful and sadness epidemics, Elephantiasis—-scientifically idenitified as Lymphatic Filariasis or Podocomiosis.
Elephantiasis can be traced to two origins. The first is caused by three known microscoptic parasitic worms spread by mosquitos. The second cause of elephantiasis is identified as podoconiosis, which is spread through soil. Both affect the lymphatic system, preventing fluids to properly circulate through the human tissues of the body.
The result is the enlargement of limbs that leaves those affected severely disfigured, near paralyzed, socially ostracized, and facing inevitable death as the disease significantly destroys vital organs such as tbe kidneys.
Worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates there are 120 million people affected and nearly 1.8 billion at risk of contracting this disease. Ethiopia is considered one of the worse affected of nations, with estimates as high as one million people affected. A 2008 national mapping project by the US based Carter Center found the disease to be endemic in western areas of the country particularly in the Gambella region.
Despite such grim statistics, progress is being made to address this disease. In 1997, WHO classified that the disease as capable of being eradicated through treatment and prevention. In 2007, geneticists mapped the genetic content of one of the known parasites which could lead to insight into the disease and new drugs. In 2011 WHO also added podoconiosis on its Neglected Diseases list.
In the meantime, its my hope that greater awareness of this disease be made because until today I was too clueless about this very visible and cruel disease. A day of awareness is indeed in need.