Tag Archives: India

Following the Footprints to an India Free of Lymphatic Filariasis

 

India is embarking on the largest mass drug administration in history against lymphatic filariasis (LF), also called elephantiasis or filaria, a painful, disabling and disfiguring neglected tropical disease (NTD).

A shocking 500 million people are at risk of infection in India. But if the government expands its efforts to treat every community at risk, it could eliminate LF from the country as early as next year.

To support this ambitious effort, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a campaign titled Hathipaon Mukt Bharat (Filaria Free India).

Giant Footprints!, a video created by the Global Network, Ogilvy and Little Lamb Productions, is raising awareness of this campaign and encouraging all Indians at risk to take the preventive medicine.

India is on the verge of success. Be a part of the story by sharing the video today.

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Abhishek Bachchan Visits with Patients Suffering from NTDs

 

Abhishek Bachchan

Bollywood celebrity Abhishek Bachchan visitis a community health center in Odisha, Bhubaneswar, India. (Photo by Vivek Singh)

Shortly after Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan joined the END7 campaign, we travelled together to Odisha (formally known as Orissa), near India’s east coast, to visit the Banamalipur Community Center. Here, the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) is providing community-based care for patients suffering from, and the community at risk for, lymphatic filariasis (LF) and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Through the work of volunteers and community health workers, the program currently serves more than 20,000 patients with LF and works in partnership with the government to support the distribution of medicine to everyone in the region to protect them from NTDs.

Abhishek met with patients who were suffering from chronic LF, and listened to their stories and experiences. They spoke of the previous hardship caused by the disease and, through the staff and services, had experienced considerable improvement in their quality of life. Yet, among many of them, there was a tangible sadness, which resulted from the stigma and ostracization caused by the disease: in a community where marriage of children is seen as a fulfillment of parenting, many of their daughters remained unmarried because suitors feared that the diseases was genetic.

LF is just one of the NTDs that can be prevented with annual medication. Once the limbs have swollen, there is no cure for LF but further disability can be prevented with proper care. CASA health workers explained and demonstrated morbidity management and disability prevention for patients with LF, which included proper washing and drying techniques, exercise massage and elevation of limbs. Abhishek was moved to join in, helping the CASA staff to wash the limbs of LF patients. Later, he took albendazole pills, one of the two medicines taken to treat and prevent early LF infection.

This visit only confirmed that there is more work to be done. While we control and eliminate these debilitating diseases, we must also improve the mental and social well-being of those suffering from NTDs. This goes beyond medicine and requires engagement of families, local community organizations, and the media and entertainment industry. With the help of organizations like CASA, and champions like Abhishek, we can take a holistic approach to addressing NTDs.

Of the 1.4 billion people in the world affected by NTDs, more than a third live in India. Global progress on NTDs hinges on India’s efforts and successes.

India is a historic leader in ending some of the most devastating diseases of our time, including smallpox and guinea worm, and most recently, polio. Now, India has the opportunity to achieve another significant public health milestone: the control and elimination of five NTDs.

Highlighting the Women of Orissa on International Women’s Day

 

Anupama standing with the women she met at the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)

Anupama standing with the women she met at the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA)

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m sharing the stories of a group of women living in Orissa State, India. Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to a community center in Banamalipur run by the Church’s Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), an NGO that works on a range of development and health issues, including morbidity management and disability prevention from lymphatic filariasis (LF). LF is a painful and disfiguring neglected tropical disease (NTD) that impacts more than 20 million people across India.

At the community center, I was introduced to a group of women suffering from the impacts of long-term LF infection. Many of them were grandmothers and mothers, and while we needed a translator to speak to each other, we were full of smiles and eager to learn about one another.

The women I met spoke openly and honestly with me about the challenges they face as women living with LF. Some of the women described how their disease impacted not only themselves, but their daughters as well.

Women in Orissa State, India

Sulochana Behara, 43, from Dhalapathar village, for example, has five healthy daughters for whom she’s having trouble finding grooms; many people incorrectly believe that the swelling of her leg caused by LF is hereditary and that her daughters will also develop this same disability.

The visible signs of LF, which include swelling and inflammation of the extremities, often do not present themselves until adult age. In fact, the average age of the individuals with LF that CASA works with is about 57. Yet one woman I met explained she began noticing symptoms when she was only 12 years old. Now 40, she explained with tears in her eyes that she never married because of the stigma she faced.

In addition to the social stigma, LF also makes it hard for women to work and live comfortably. Many women explained that even working at home was difficult and that they couldn’t sit in certain positions for long periods of time because of the pain they suffered.

For these women, CASA is a welcomed respite from the stigma and challenges they often face as women living with LF. Staff and volunteers who work at CASA help the women wash and care for their swollen legs. The health workers carefully cleanse the women’s skin to remove bacteria. This process can reduce or reverse skin or tissue damage. This type of care does not cure, but can manage, the symptoms and progression of LF.

Unfortunately, the experiences of the women I met are not unique. Millions of women in India are living with or are at risk of contracting LF. As a whole, India bears 45 percent of the world’s population living at risk for LF.

WOMENSDAY (1)I am hopeful that with the support of our celebrity Ambassador, Abhishek Bachchan who accompanied me on the trip, we can help give voice to the stories and experiences of these women and end the stigma that they face. I am also hopeful that India’s efforts to eliminate LF will help protect millions of women from having to deal with the pain, disability and stigma of LF.

This International Women’s day, let’s share these women’s stories and raise the awareness needed to ensure that no woman lives a life of pain and stigmatization due to this preventable disease.

photos by Vivek Singh

Feeling Optimistic on the 2nd Anniversary of the London Declaration for NTDs

 

Photo by Esther Havens

Photo by Esther Havens

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) – the largest coordinated effort against NTDs to date. Since its launch, governments across the globe have committed to end NTDs and hundreds of millions of people have been treated for these diseases.  This week we’re recognizing the remarkable progress and momentum achieved since the formation of this global partnership where 13 pharmaceutical companies; the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; World Bank and other international organizations formed a global partnership to control and eliminate 10 NTDs by the end of the decade – a commitment that Sabin Vaccine Institute’s president Dr. Peter Hotez calls a “tipping point for the world’s poor.”

The London Declaration has served as a roadmap to improve the lives of the 1.4 billion people worldwide affected by NTDs, most of whom are among the world’s poorest. Since then,  regional committees, endemic and donor countries, NGO and pharmaceutical partners throughout the world committed to and prioritized controlling and eliminating NTDs. Eliminating NTDs is understood to be one of the most cost-effective and comprehensive ways to achieve development goals and eliminate poverty. While we still have a long way to go, measured progress has been made and we’re feeling optimistic about the route to 2020, and we know that with increased funds and political commitment, the number of people needlessly suffering from NTDs will decrease.

In Asia this past year:

  • 6 countries started the process to verify elimination of lymphatic filariasis (LF) – an extremely painful and debilitating NTD
  • 6 countries reached the global target of deworming at least 75% of school-aged children
  •  India’s Joint Secretary in the Ministry on Health, Dr. Anshu Prakash, stated the country’s commitment to the controlling and eliminating of NTDs – an important announcement considering India bears 35% of the world’s burden for NTDs
  • Following the launch of the Regional Strategic Plans for WPRO and SEARO, more than 10 countries across Asia and the Pacific updated their national plans and renewed their commitment to end NTDs, and East Timor is preparing to launch its national program this year.

In Africa:

  • The Sixth Conference of African Union (AU) Ministers of Health (CAMH6) in April called for increased domestic investment in NTD control and elimination
  • The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 63rd Regional Committee for Africa meeting passed a regional strategic plan to accelerate achievements
  • Three African countries launched national integrated master NTD plans – Nigeria in February, Ethiopia in June and Uganda in September –  totaling more than 30 African countries with such plans.
  • This spring, we learned that Togo is soon to become the first sub-Saharan African country to eliminate LF

And in Latin America and the Caribbean:

While the progress in these regions is promising, more needs to be done by both endemic countries and partners. If we are to truly eliminate poverty and the diseases that perpetuate it, we need sustained support from all stakeholders: endemic countries, donors, regional and global committees, NGOs and more. As managing director of the Global Network, Dr. Neeraj Mistry, recently stated in an op-ed, NTD control and elimination efforts must also integrated into broader efforts to eliminate poverty and achieve global development goals:

“By including NTDs and specific targets in the post-2015 development agenda, we will support country-led efforts to reach control and elimination goals, improve the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people, and accelerate progress in global poverty reduction.”

Ending the 10 most common NTDs by 2020 was an ambitious goal but the progress of the last two years proves the global community is up for the challenge, and will continue to fight until NTDs no longer exist.