By Hassan Zaggi
It started like a small swelling on the scrotum. The swelling continued to enlarge. 49-year-old Kabir and his neighbours thought it was an external hernia. He kept going from one traditional medicine practitioner to the other, his situation became worse as the scrotum became bigger.
All the traditional medicine practitioners he consulted diagnose Kabir to have a chronic hernia. Visiting the hospital, to Kabir, was not an option as he was busy taking hernia concoctions from traditional medicine practitioners believing that his situation will become better.
Grudgingly, he eventually visited one of the General Hospitals and was billed to undergo surgical operation as the medical personnel concluded that it was hernia.
It was at the verge of taking Kabir to the theatre room that one of the doctors suggested the reassessment of the condition. It was discovered at this point, that the case was not hernia but Lymphatic Filariasis also known as elephantiasis.
Explaining his ordeal to our Correspondent, Kabir, who is now getting better from the sickness regretted that he nearly died due to ignorance of the nature and symptoms of Lymphatic Filariasis.
According to Kabir who lives in a remote village in Nasarawa Local Government Area of Nasarawa state: “I have never heard of such sickness in my life. I have seen many people with swollen scrotum but my thought has been that it was hernia.
“Even the medical personnel in the hospital, it seems, are also not conversant with the nature of the disease.
“If not for the intervention of one of the doctors who suggested that my case be reassessed, I would have undergone surgical operation for hernia instead of tackling directly the case of Lymphatic Filariasis.
“I think there is the need for more awareness creation both for the general public and among the medical personnel on the nature of the disease so that people can know more about it and how to identify it.”
He further explained: “Even the traditional medicine practitioners are not conversant with this type of disease. They nearly killed me with their concoctions. I was lucky because one of them suggested that he was going to put iron in fire and burst the swelling. This, according to him, was the solution to the swollen scrotum. That could have led to my death.”
Kabir is not the only one in this situation as many Nigerians are currently suffering from various degrees of Lymphatic Filariasis both of the legs, breast and scrotum and many other Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) because of lack of knowledge of the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Some other diseases that belong to the family of NTDs in Nigeria include Schistosomiasis, Onchocerciasis, Helminthesis, Trachoma and many others.
NTDs are said to affect mostly the poorest and vulnerable people who live in hard to reach areas of Africa.
All states in Nigeria, according to experts, are endemic to one or more NTDs and that 122 million people which is equivalent to 2 out of every 3 Nigerians are at risk of the diseases.
Most NTDs patient go to the hospital late due to the ignorance of the nature of the disease. Before they go to the hospital and eventually diagnose it, the situation might have become too bad, most times beyond remedy.
According to medical experts, Lymphatic filariasis is a tropical, parasitic disease that affects the lymph nodes and lymph vessels.
The disease, the experts explain, is spread by infected mosquitoes. Their bites deposit a parasite that travels to the lymph system. The dangerous aspect of the Lymphatic filariasis is that most cases do not have specific symptoms.
The disease causes long-term damage to the lymph system and causes swelling in the legs, arms and genitalia. It also increases the risk of frequent bacterial infections that harden and thicken the skin (elephantiasis).
The good news is that the disease can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bite and treated when identified early, as there are drugs that can kill the parasites.
Speaking at a two-day media dialogue organised by the Child Rights Information Bureau (CRIB) of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health and the United Nation Children Fund (UNICEF), for journalists in Port Harcourt, recently, the NTDs Desk Officer, at the Federal Ministry of Health, Emmanuel David, said that the long term consequences of Lymphatic filariasis include disability, stigma, social exclusion and poverty.
He disclosed that an estimated 138 million people in Nigeria are at-risk of Lymphatic filariasis and that 583 (75.3%) local government areas in Nigeria are endemic for lymphatic filariasis disease.
This, indeed, is worrisome because, according to the Desk Officer, Mass Administration of Medicines in at-risk population is currently ongoing in only 531 local government areas of 34 States and FCT.
He, however, revealed that poor funding or in fact near-lack of funding is hampering the fight against the disease in Nigeria.
The Desk Officer therefore, called on both local and international partners to bridge the funding gap by supporting the fight against the disease in the country.
In adequate funding by both the federal and state governments is said to be the major obstacle holding back the fight against the Lymphatic filariasis and indeed, all NTDs in Nigeria.
According to the National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Elimination Programme in Nigeria, Dr. Nse Akpan, the fight against NTDs in Nigeria is currently suffering due to what he described as epileptic, piece-meal and near-zero release of budgeted funds by the federal government.
Donor funding, according to him, is the major source that is currently sustaining the fight against the NTDs in Nigeria. This, may experts say, is not sustainable and cannot be sufficient.
It is therefore, necessary to call on the governments at all levels to make available the needed funding for the NTDs so that there can be massive awareness creation of the diseases in all nooks and crannies of the country.
Awareness creation is key because it will make people to know about the disease and be on the watch and visit the nearby health facility if they notice any unusual sign in their body.
It is also important to call on the federal and the state governments to ensure that medical practitioners are trained and retrained on how to identify, diagnose and treat lymphatic filariasis and indeed, any other NTDs.
Nigerians must also imbibe the culture of regular and early hospital visit whenever they notice any unusual event in their body. This will help in the early detection, diagnosis and subsequent treatment of the disease.