Fatmata couldn’t break from her belief that witchcraft was to blame. The other young woman took the prescribed medicine and would be open to further support. At this point the medicine could not cure her but it might ease some of the discomfort.
Fatmata is one of two attractive, intelligent young women, 19 years old, whom we met during a health campaign in Sierra Leone.
They had two things in common: They suffered from what locals call “Big Fut,” and it was unlikely that either of them would ever marry or have a family.
“Big Fut” is better known as lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis. It’s a dreadful parasitic disease that primarily causes feet, legs and men’s scrotums, to swell to grotesque proportions.
Previously, neither of the women had any idea about the cause of the affliction, but one thing was clear: their appearance made them pariahs in the community. Their legs were so swollen that long, loose-fitting dresses barely concealed their shame.
They had visited natural healers who did more harm than good. They had been told that they were cursed and poisoned through their mothers’ milk.
But following counseling from an NGO in the capital, Freetown, their paths separated.
The NGO, Helen Keller International, has done a tremendous job educating people about LF and organizing a massive campaign to distribute drugs that will prevent others from suffering the same fate as the young women we met.
With the help of the government of Sierra Leone, USAID, and the pharmaceutical companies Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, which provided the drugs free, the campaign was able to treat more than one million people in Freetown and the surrounding area in five days.
Similar campaigns are taking place in endemic countries, where many people continue to suffer physical pain and stigmatization.
For more on the psychological effects of this disease, read Lizzie Litt’s guest post from Sri Lanka on our “Notes from the field” blog at http://www.ghfn.org/_blog/Notes_from_the_field/post/Title_here/
David Lindsay is the Managing Editor of Global Health Frontline News. He and videographer Roger Herr traveled to Sierra Leone to cover a drug distribution campaign for lymphatic filariasis and river blindness. Go to www.ghfn.org for more on these and other stories.