When you hear of the word elephantiasis for the first time, you may think it’s a fleet of elephants, or a collection and so on. In fact, in some of Uganda’s local dialects, it’s called ekiyovu to mean a disease with similar specifications of an elephant. This is because of the size of one’s legs when they swell as a result of contracting the disease.
In Lukindu B Village, Bukatube Sub-County in Mayuge district, east of Uganda Peter Oyuki a 52 year old man is suffering from Elephantiasis (Lymphatic filariasis), a disease which is among the most 12 Neglected Tropical Diseases in Uganda and among the 7 common yet neglected tropical diseases (NTD’S) worldwide.
It affects more than 120m million people in the world. In Uganda, more than 1 million people are affected with the disease. It is caused by a tiny thread-like parasitic filarial nematode worm called wuchereria bancrofti transmitted by mosquitoes to humans. Infection is acquired early in life but gradually begins to cause internal damage.
Pain, stigma and immobility, is what Peter Oyuki and Patrick Balikoba are going through. Oyuki has lived with the disease for 32 years now as he recounts. His wife abandoned him for a handsome neighbor because of his condition. Oyuki recalls that this disease started in 1983. “It began with itching then I started feeling cold and difficulty in walking. My legs became painful and heavy to carry. I have tried to get this illness treated and failed. I do not know what causes this disease,” he narrates. Now 53, Oyuki hopes to get better one day. According to the Mayuge District Vector Control Officer, Juma Nabonge, Oyuki’s condition cannot be reversed and he will have to live in this sad state.
“I usually experience a lot of pain when it is very hot or cold. I get so uncomfortable that I can’t even move around,” he says.
Patrick Balikoba, a 47-year-old resident of Buseera B Village in Busakira Sub-County, Mayuge District, is still wondering what forced his spouse with whom he had five children to move out of their marital home. “My wife just left. She did not give a reason for leaving. I don’t know if it was due to my illness,” Balikoba wonders.
“We shall make sure Balikoba starts getting drugs from the Village Health Team,” Nabonge promised, adding, “The drug will kill the worm but unfortunately the size of his legs will remain the same.”
The Uganda Ministry of Health reveals that over 11 million people are suffering from the disease. And according to the third World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Elephantiasis has claimed over 1 million people in Africa only.