Sightsavers has been supporting governments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Uganda to eliminate river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.
The work, carried out with funding from UK Aid Match, is helping to improve millions of lives.
Both river blindness (also known as onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (LF) are debilitating neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that are caused by parasites, and can be treated together. For the past three years we have been doing just that – delivering 60 million treatments to stop infection from spreading and reaching 9.5 million people for river blindness and more than 12 million people for LF.
The programme has also helped to find and treat people already suffering from symptoms caused by LF, then supporting them throughout their care.
Here’s what we’ve learned from the programme.
1. Patient care starts with the person
Lymphedema, which is caused by LF, makes the limbs and other parts of the body swell. This causes discomfort and often restricts people’s movement.
We have been helping people with lymphedema to understand how to care for their limbs and reduce the debilitating, acutely painful attacks they experience, which can often last for days. In men, we have been providing surgery and aftercare for hydrocele, which causes the scrotum to swell, leading to pain and disability.
This kind of patient care starts with the person, not the disease. It’s about supporting an individual at every step of their diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Support can come in many forms, including guidance on how to cope with and reduce symptoms, money to cover transport costs for clinic visits, or reminders about follow-up appointments. This is not just effective for the individual concerned: focusing on someone’s journey from start to finish, and strengthening every step in that process, also strengthens health systems. This is because every link in the health system chain – from outreach to clinic to aftercare – has to function in order for treatment to work.