The people of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, suffer from a host of forgotten, parasitic diseases. Schistosomiasis and Lymphatic Filariasis blight the lives of millions creating an infant mortality rate among the worst in the world. Yet the drugs which can cure these and other neglected diseases are cheap and safe to use. Now there is an ambitious goal – to eliminate five neglected diseases in just five years.
In this documentary produced for the BBC we tell the heart-rending stories of some of those who have died, suffered and survived. Gannow lives along and isolated in his compound in Inkouregao. The locals avoid him, calling Gannow and those like him “The Bowa”. He is infected with Lymphatic Filariasis and it has left his body shockingly swollen and deformed. Lymphatic Filariasis is transmitted by mosquitoes. As the mosquito bites a human, parasites swim into the bloodstream and move to the lymphatic system where they multiply, producing millions of worms and irreparably damaging the lymphatic system, spreading lymph fluid through the body. The skin and underlying tissues swell and thicken.
The disfiguration caused by the disease most commonly occurs in the legs, arms and genitals. Gannow has suffered with LF since childhood, but it is as a man that he has been worst affected. Due to the length of his infection, the lymph fluids have found their way to his scrotum, swelling his testicles to gross proportions. He finds moving around to be near impossible and is in constant and extreme pain. He is unable to have children. Gannow’s wife left him because of his condition and cannot work.
However, Niger’s new national health policy has given Gannow and those like him a ray of hope. LF is treatable to an extent and the parasites can be stopped with a simple course of Albendazole and Mectizan. Though this is not a cure, it will kill the parasites and prevent any further damage. As we see in this film, this treatment has never been available to Gannow until now. Ali, Inkouregao’s voluntary drug distributor, has ensured that Gannow eventually received the correct treatment for his condition. The swelling on his scrotum has been operated on and removed though the damage wreaked by the disease cannot be undone. The government of Niger hope to make the treatment available across the country to all ages. It is estimated that, with the new drug distribution policies, LF could be eliminated within five years and cases like Gannow’s assigned to the history books, but there remains much work to be done.