Lymphatic filariasis (LF), sometimes known as elephantiasis is a parasitic disease caused by microscopic thread-like worms, which are transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
The parasites lodge in the lymphatic system, producing millions of immature larvae that circulate in the blood and cause swelling in the arms, legs and/or genitalia (hydrocele).
LF can lead to severe deformities, debilitating fevers and serious damage to the lymphatic system. Fevers can flare up suddenly and an attack makes it impossible to work for several days. Walking can be extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, for those affected.
Some of the common effects are:
Sadly, there is no cure for LF. However, the disease can be managed through self-care techniques, in order to reduce swelling and pain. A huge part of our work is to travel to remote communities and teach self-care techniques to help people manage their disease effectively. We also work on ways to prevent the disease spreading further.
For many people affected by LF, walking becomes incredibly difficult and painful, where their feet become swollen, damaged and vulnerable to injury. If injury occurs and the affected limb becomes infected, a person can be confined to their bed for up to 15 days, losing the ability to work. We provide custom-made protective footwear to ensure people can walk pain and injury free. Last year we distributed 36,785 pairs of these custom-made shoes.
Due to the prejudice attached to the deformities caused by LF, many people affected are often shunned and abandoned by their loved ones when they need help the most. They often lose their ability to work due to the effects of LF.
Lymphatic filariasis is the second biggest cause of long-term disability in the world. In the countries we work in there are millions of people already affected by LF; even more are at risk of contracting the disease.