Without treatment for LF Rakesh’s future looked bleak.
Thanks to LEPRA, 12 year-old Rakesh no longer faces a future of isolation and humiliation.
Rakesh lives in Pota Pokhari, a small village in rural Orissa, India. He loves to have fun, just like other boys his age. But two years ago he wasn’t like the others. His navy blue shorts concealed a swelling.
Rakesh has lymphatic filariasis (LF) also known as elephantiasis. The disease is caused by parasitic, thread-like worms and is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. As well as disfigured limbs, it can also cause extreme swelling of the genitals for both men and women. This can lead to difficulties within the family and within marriage – with women often deemed ‘useless’ and ‘born with a disease’.
Rakesh’s village is remote, with palm trees, paddy fields and lush green valleys. The homes made of mud, dung and straw are located adjacent to a river. This is no paradise. Extreme poverty, insanitary living conditions and a humid climate provide a favourable breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Like leprosy, LF causes extreme stigma and is greatly misunderstood. It affects 83 of the world’s poorest countries, and 120 million people are infected. Children are ostracised and they live with the painful physical symptoms of swellings, skin infections and fevers if left without treatment.
Rakesh was a target for ridicule due to the tightness of his shorts. He was teased so much that he stopped going to school. He could no longer face the rejection or cruel taunts from his classmates.
LF causes suffering and deformity. Twenty-five million men are affected in the same way as Rakesh. The infection usually begins in childhood and makes everyday life incredibly difficult. For Rakesh, playing cricket – India’s much loved game – was no longer possible. ‘It was difficult to play,’ he said. ‘When I was running it was feeling heavy.’ He stopped mixing with others. Rakesh was depressed and lonely.
Thanks to the right intervention, Rakesh now has a promising future.
One day, Rakesh heard singing in the distance. It was Narenda, one of LEPRA’s community mobilisers whose work covers a number of villages in the Satyabadi district. Narenda brings health education messages to life through song, making villagers aware of LF, how to prevent infection and how to kill the parasite by taking a drug once a year. Like others in his community, Rakesh felt drawn towards the sound and soon saw a glimmer of hope – LEPRA’s health camp a few kilometres away. There, his father spoke to Sanjeev, another community mobiliser, about Rakesh’s condition, which was then diagnosed by LEPRA surgeon Dr Acharya.
A government doctor refused to refer Rakesh for surgery until he was 14. However, Dr Acharya, who is well regarded in Puri by government health staff, insisted that Rakesh was ready for surgery now. He did not want the swelling to become so severe that he experienced further pain and discomfort. Rakesh feared surgery, yet Dr Acharya was there to counsel Rakesh and allay his fears. The operation was performed and was successful in removing the swelling. Litres of fluid were removed during a 20 minute procedure. Two years on, and Rakesh is a tall and healthy teenager – he is now top of the class and has been selected as a member of the school’s cricket team.
Tofan, Rakesh’s father said, “I feel very happy because my son’s life was returned to him and now he can study.”
With your help LEPRA can transform lives.
LEPRA works to end the unnecessary shame and suffering for people with LF through a range of responses. For Rakesh and other males in his position, surgery is the only option. It is cheap, quick and safe – a simple cut to remove fluid. For others with swollen limbs, self-care demonstration camps train people in ways to wash and apply ointments so that their swelling, skin infections and fevers are reduced. But, unless our field staff and doctors can get out into the villages, people with the same symptoms as Rakesh will remain undetected and untreated.
Spotlight on LF - learn more about lymphatic filariasis -- the second major cause of disability worldwide -- and how LEPRA Health in Action are helping to combat the disease.
Women and children will remain most vulnerable due to shame, embarrassment and cultural constraints preventing them from seeking help. A gift of £30 could transform the lives of people like Rakesh with a patient-tailored approach to alleviating their symptoms.
Posted by admin 15:38 18.10.2011
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