The Ministry of Health Sanitation in collaboration with Helen Keller International, a Non Governmental Organization working in the health sector will on Thursday, 3rd July 2010 start a five day treatment for Elephantiasis in the Western Area.
Elephantiasis or Lymphatic Filariasisis is caused by worms and the worm cause damage that leads to swelling of the feet and /or the scrotum. Elephantiasis is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.
The transmission of this disease from person to person is through mosquito bites and the transmission usually occurs in childhood, often before the age of five. The progression of this disease is very slow taking between 10 to 20 years.
To detect this disease, one has to take blood test that will show if you have been infected and these tests are done only for research purposes by World Health Organization (WHO) and not in health centers or hospitals.
In 2005, these ICT blood tests conducted by WHO showed that the disease is found throughout the country after 23% of people tested had evidence of Elephantiasis infection. In the Western Area, up to 12% of persons tested had positive blood tests.
Usually there are no signs and symptoms of Elephantiasis in the first years of infection but when the infection progress swelling slowly begins, most commonly of feet or scrotum. Sometimes the breast or arms become swollen; the urine appears thick and cloudy. In severe long-lasting infection the affected area may become suddenly swollen, very painful and cause fever.
In Sierra Leone, people believe this sickness is caused by witchcraft, juju or korkor, but it is definitely caused by worms.
To interrupt the transmission of the disease or treat the infected population, WHO has recommended annual drug treatment with two (2) drugs Mectizan (Ivermectin) and Albendazole. This annual treatment started in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in 2007, and extended to the South in 2008. This year will be the first time preventive treatment for elephantiasis will be provided for the population in the Western Area.
Ivermectin is a very small, white tablet and the dosage ranges from 1-4 tablets per person depending on the person’s height. The dosage will be administered by a health volunteer and will use a ‘dose pole’ to assess the number of tablets to be given.
Albendazole is bigger than Ivermectin but it is also white and the dosage is one tablet per person regardless of height. It is also a de-worming treatment for the common worms on the stomach and is good for people to take deworming treatment from time to time.
This treatment should not be taken by severely ill or weak persons, pregnant women and women who have delivered less than a week old, children less than five years or under the minimum level of the dose pole.
It is reported that Ivermectin has some reactions after treatment, it makes some people experience headache, itching or swelling, but this normally disappears within three days even without further treatment.
If the reactions persist, the person should go to a health center for Piriton treatment. The reactions are due to the worms dying and show that the person was infected.
If someone has had a severe reaction to Elephantiasis treatment previously perhaps when they lived in the provinces, they may still be given the treatment this year and can expect less reaction as there will be fewer worms in the stomach.
These tablets are from the United States and they are manufactured and provided by Merck and GlaxoSmithKline free of charge. This program is sponsored by the USAID through Helen Keller International. The program is implemented by the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Health Sanitation.
The treatment will start on the 3rd of June and will end on the7th targeting at least about 65% of Western Area’s population. 950 health volunteers will administer the treatment and they will be easily indentified wherever they are.
MOHS in collaboration with HKI is calling on everybody in Western Area to come out and take this treatment so that we can eliminate Elephantiasis in Western Area and the country as a whole.