Thursday, December 14, 2006

Elephantiasis in Haiti

When I got off the full tap-tap this morning in front of the hospital, many people were crossing the street, buying and selling things on the corner, and a couple of men were fixing flat tires. Children were also heading to school in their fresh uniforms.

At the very back of the tap-tap, standing in the street, was a 60 year old appearing man who had dropped his pants in a very innocent fashion to show all of the people in the vicinity his huge scrotum that was hanging down in front of him. His face was pathetic as he was searching everyone’s eyes. He was looking for some spare change so he could eat or “find” medication. He was filthy. People stared at him, but did not laugh, and then turned back to what they were doing or headed on their way. No one offered him anything.

This man’s serious problem is called filariasis and is caused by a parasite spread by mosquitoes. The parasite has different stages and causes the lymphatic system to become blocked. Severe swelling can occur in dependent areas of the body. When the anatomy becomes very swollen and distorted the condition is called elephantiasis.

There are 120 million cases of filariasis world wide with at least 40 million having severe deformities as did the poor man in the street. Haiti has its fair share of elephantiasis.

The lady pictured above has a severe case of elephantiasis also. She is a clinic patient in Cite Soleil. She has had this swollen right leg for over 25 years. Medication will not help her now other than to treat bacterial or fungal infections that may superinfect her damaged extremity. Can you imagine limping around fetid Soleil with a right leg like this?

Below is a water canal in the middle of Soleil that dumps directly into the Bay of Port-au-Prince. It breeds mosquitoes which will carry the parasite and will make the lives of others as miserable as hers and the man behind the tap tap.

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