Three Generations, One Hope for Health: A Story from Kenya
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
More than half a billion children around the world suffer from neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Neema and her sister Fatuma live in Burangi, a remote village in Kenya surrounded by water where neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are endemic. Just five years old, Neema has already been sick for several years. As Fatuma grows taller and stronger, her little sister has grown weaker. More than half the population of Kenya lives on less than $1 a day and is at risk for one or more NTDs.
Kenya was among the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to officially launch a multi-year national plan to combat the seven most common NTDs. The most effective way to eliminate NTDs is to give medication to everyone in at-risk regions regularly for several years. Kenya's Ministry of Health works with partners on NTD control programs across much of the country. But the effort hasn't adequately expanded to the Coast Province, where Neema and Fatuma live. With support from END7, Kenya's National Program to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (NPELF) delivered pills to treat both lymphatic filariasis as well as the intestinal worm diseases threatening Neema, Fatuma, Alice, Khasirimi and the rest of their community.
Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, remains one of Kenya’s biggest public health problems in the coastal region, where Neema and Fatuma live. Lymphatic filariasis is an extremely painful, debilitating and disfiguring disease. Neema and Fatuma’s grandmother, Khasirimi, was once a great farmer. The entire family ate the vegetables and fruit she grew until lymphatic filariasis swelled her legs and made it painful to walk. Transmitted by infected mosquitos, the disease can live inside a person for years before showing any symptoms. It can be prevented with an annual dose of medication but once the extremities start to swell, it cannot be cured. Because Khasirimi's disease has progressed, the swelling can only be managed – not reversed.
With annual distribution of drugs to treat lymphatic filariasis, the disease could be eliminated in just five years.
The medication to treat all 7 NTDs has been donated, the hard part is delivering it to those in need. We have the tools available to end these diseases, and we can do it by 2020.