“I’m happy for my healing”: Stories of care on World Lymphedema Day

Rasman Sawadogo discusses his experience living with a hydrocele in Burkina Faso. Photo Credit: Bradley Cox.

March 6, 2019 is World Lymphedema Day, a day to recognize lymphedema and lymphatic diseases and advocate that they become a global priority. There are various causes of lymphedema and they affect people from all walks of life. One of the causes that affects millions of people around the world is found at the end of long dusty roads, kilometers from basic health services, where people lack access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This disease is called lymphatic filariasis (LF) and it affects the world’s most underserved populations. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 40 million people living in 72 countries currently suffering from the consequences of LF infection. The challenge is massive. As part of this very important day, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Morbidity Management and Disability Prevention (MMDP) Project joins governmental and non-governmental partners in highlighting the ongoing fight against LF-related morbidity.

The MMDP Project works with countries to provide high-quality treatment and care for people suffering from the debilitating effects of LF, particularly lymphedema and hydrocele. Lymphedema can manifest as swelling in legs and arms, or in breasts among women. Men may also suffer from hydrocele, a condition where the scrotum becomes swollen. Both conditions make working difficult if not impossible. They also often require a family member to help the affected person with basic tasks, taking that person away from their own daily chores. Affected individuals also face stigma and ostracism. 

Rasmane Sawadogo is a farmer and community health assistant in Burkina Faso. For fifteen years his hydrocele often kept him from strenuous work because of the pain. He was unable to farm, breed his animals, or help at the local hospital. His condition also left him socially isolated. Watch his full story here.

“It bothers me because you don’t want to be around other people anymore. Imagine sitting around with a group of people and they keep staring at your hydrocele. You can’t hide it.” —Rasmane Sawadogo

Madeline Maidini working in her field in the Far North of Cameroon. Photo Credit: William Nsai/Studio 3.

Madeline Maidini is a farmer in the Far North region of Cameroon. She spends most of her day on her feet cultivating cassava, which she turns into beer that she sells to feed her family. Though the pain from her lymphedema mostly comes at night, there are times during the day when the pain in her leg is so extreme that she must stop working, causing her income to suffer.

Action is being taken. The global program has made significant progress through the mass distribution of drugs donated by Merck & Co. Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline. By interrupting the transmission of LF, over 300 million people in the last 15 years no longer need drug treatment.

Yet the need to address those suffering the consequences of infection remains. Providing quality care and appropriate treatment is not always easy. Surgical services for hydrocele are not always readily available. Those suffering from lymphedema don’t always have access to the soap, clean water, and basic ointments needed for the daily washing necessary to avoid secondary infections. World Lymphedema Day provides the opportunity to reflect on the need to ensure that all people with hydrocele and lymphedema have access to high-quality care.

Rasmane Sawodogo had surgery in 2016 with support from the MMDP Project. He is now able to work again. Following his surgery he expressed deep appreciation for the care he received.

“I’m like a hungry person who was given food. When you are given food, you are happy. So I’m happy for my healing.” —Rasmane Sawadogo

Madeline Maidini was trained by health workers to properly wash her leg avoiding open sores and infection which may also lead to acute attacks. Being empowered to better care for herself allows her to be more productive and not let the disease prevent her from carrying out her daily tasks.

Where care is available for those affected by LF, the impact can be life-changing. The stories of Rasmane and Madeline demonstrate the difference that hydrocele surgery and lymphedema management can make in an individual’s life. Everyone needs the necessary care regardless of where they are, and the world cannot forget those that live at the end of those long dusty roads—the ones that are so often forgotten.