Filaria patients from Essequibo share their story
By Indrawattie Natram
Narine Datt Murlie and Nankissore Bridgemohan have both been living with lymphatic filariasis for more than a combined 100 years, beginning at the start of the decade of the ’70s.
Murlie was then a mere teenager and Bridgemohan in his mid-20s when they contracted Filaria.
Lymphatic Filariasis damages the lymphatic system and often leads to the abnormal swelling of body parts, for example, the scrotum (seed) of males, breast(s) of women, and feet of males and females. The mosquito-borne disease also causes pain, severe disability, and social stigma to the patients.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, some 893 million people in 49 countries around the world remain threatened by Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) and require preventive chemotherapy to stop the spread of the extremely parasitic infection.
The WHO also states that Filariasis can be eliminated by preventive chemotherapy with safe medicine combinations repeated every year. Through annual Mass Drug Administration (MDA) campaigns, more than 7.7 billion treatments have been made available to fight the spread of the infection since 2000.
Guyana has opted to use the triple-drug therapy of Ivermectin, Diethylcarbamazine, and Albendazole (IDA) for this year’s Mass (MDA) campaign.
Murlie and Bridgemohan wish that the collaboration between PAHO/WHO and the Ministry of Health was available 50 years ago, but they have the same message for Guyanese today: “take the Filaria pills and avoid the spread of disease.”
Both men’s lives changed dramatically following the symptoms. Both Pomeroon/Supenaam (Region Two) residents knew how their lives could be affected, until death.
During an exclusive interview, Murlie recalled his ordeal, which began in 1970 with a sudden onset of fever accompanied by severe pains in his left leg. He was immediately rushed to the Regional Suddie Public Hospital by his now-deceased wife and was given treatment. But his condition persisted.
The father of four battled through the debilitating condition to support a growing family.
“The disease infected me at a young age. My kids were born already, however, I still had to provide as a father for my children,” Murlie recalled.
Over time, his left leg continued to swell and the discomfort intensified. He had to learn to live with the condition. He was also fortunate to receive home visits from a nurse who assisted him in cleaning and caring for the swollen leg. Through the years, the treatment worked to the point that today he manages to ride a bicycle.
The widower is in a much happier place 50 years after the onset of the disease. In his words, he now lives “one day at a time”.
The 68-year-old is urging all Guyanese to take their pills whenever the Ministry of Health Pill Distributors (PDs) visit their homes or workplaces to share the Triple-Drug Therapy.
Seventy-five-year-old Bridgemohan recalled sensing the symptoms as a 25-year-old. Severe chills and pains in his right leg were the first signs. After six months of suffering, he migrated to another country to seek treatment.
Unfortunately, nothing worked. He is resigned to living with the incurable illness. He still recalls his ‘glory days’ of wearing boots. Those days will return, Bridgemohan, the eternal optimist believes. He currently lives with his wife who takes care of him.
Hearing of the PAHO/WHO and MOH MDA campaign set for March 8 launch in Region Two, he too is charging the nation “take their pills” whenever the Pill Distributors visit their homes or workplaces.
Protecting the Masses
Focal Point of the Neglected Infectious Diseases (NID) at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Reza Niles, emphasised that the only way to eliminate the disease is to use the (IDA) therapy.
Dr. Niles said once the signs and symptoms develop, they persist for the remainder of the affected person’s life and as a result, the patient’s quality of life is dramatically affected.
The Neglected Infectious Disease Doctor is therefore joining Murlie and Bridgemohan in encouraging persons to take their Filaria pills adding persons who not take the Triple- Drug Treatment are at greater risk of becoming ill and exposed their surrounding as they can contribute to the spread of Filaria, a disease transmitted from person to person through the bite of an infected Culex mosquito. Infected persons may develop chronic manifestations like Elephantiasis.
A Lymphatic Filariasis study conducted by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with PAHO/WHO revealed that 90 percent of the population is at risk for Filaria. The resulted of the 2018/2019 Lymphatic Filariasis Remapping study guide the National Program to target all endemic Regions with Mass Drug Administration.
During the 2021 LF MDA campaign persons living in Regions, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and 10 will be given the Filaria pills. Apart from killing the Filaria worms, the Triple-drug therapy is said to kill intestinal worms and to be effective against scabies and lice as well. This provides vicarious joy for both Murli and Bridgemohan.