Filaria is a group of neglected tropical diseases infecting over 150 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The two main filarial diseases, onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), devastate the lives of patients, causing debilitating symptoms and social discrimination. In March 2014, DND
i traveled to rural Ghana to meet and interview patients with filaria and the physician-researchers treating them.
River near Mankattah village, Dunkwa district, southern Ghana, an area endemic for onchocerciasis (river blindness). The black flies that transmit onchocerciasis are believed to breed in the river. Setting up a medical examination tent in Mankattah village, Dunkwa district, southern Ghana, an area endemic for onchocerciasis (river blindness). Medical research team from KCCR (Kumasi, Ghana), explaining the day’s activities to patients, Mankattah village. Speaking: Research Assistant Yusif Mubarik; seated: Prof. Achim Hoerauf (left), Dr. Alexander Debrah (right). Dr. Alexander Debrah points to skin nodule on Kwame Michael Ntumi, 48, who has onchocerciasis. The nodule contains many adult filarial worms, which can live for 15 years. Dr. Linda Batsa Debrah (left) with Gladys Bediako, 30, a patient with onchocerciasis from Mankattah village. Ms. Bediako suffers intense itching and body pain, often preventing her from working. “Leopard skin” (discoloration of the skin) due to onchocerciasis is visible on these patients’ legs. This condition can cause social stigmatization and embarrassment for the patient. View of Asemkow, a coastal village in Ghana, where lymphatic filariasis (LF, or elephantiasis) is endemic. Most of the people in Asemkow village make a living through catching and selling fish. Dr. Linda Batsa Debrah examines Ama Dadiesa, 61, who has LF, causing swelling and “mossy” skin on her leg. Because of her condition, her husband divorced her and abandoned her and her children. Adwoa Mamsowaa, 49, from the nearby village of Asemasa, has LF, causing massive swelling of her leg and recurrent attacks of body pain. When these attacks occur, she is not able to work. Drawing blood to test for LF, in Asemkow village. Doctors use a rapid diagnostic immunochromatographic test (ICT) that can give a result in just a few hours. Distribution of bowls and disinfectant soap to LF patients to wash and clean their limbs, to prevent infections. Nighttime blood draw, Busua village, Ghana. Doctors examine the blood through a microscope to look for moving LF worms, which are most actively transmitted at night. Lab technologists extracting DNA from filarial worms, at KCCR (Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine), Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana. Dr. Alexander Debrah, co-lead researcher of the Filariasis Project at KCCR (Kumasi, Ghana), examines a filarial worm sample in a microscope at the university’s parasitology lab.
All photos, credit ©: DNDi/Cosmos/Sylvain Cherkaoui