Salifat, a 60-year-old widow, is the main caregiver and breadwinner for her family. In 2016, she noticed her leg was swollen, which prompted her to seek medical help.
“When the swelling and fever started, I thought it was caused by malaria, so my children decided to take me to the hospital. There, the staff treated me as best they could and I felt a bit better, so I went back home. But the swelling continued. We had spent so much money to get to the hospital and I never received a diagnosis,” explains Salifat.
Once back home, the fever returned and the swelling doubled in size. Salifat’s daughter, Mainna, remembers the difficulties the swelling caused. “I was with her since the beginning of her illness and I became her caregiver,” says Mainna. “Before, she used to visit the neighbours, attend weddings and walk long distances without stress. But when the swelling got really bad, she could not walk long distances and sometimes struggled to even stand.”
A year later, Surajo Khadi, a local health worker, found Salifat and identified that the swelling was caused by advanced lymphatic filariasis (LF), a neglected tropical disease (NTD) transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito.
If left untreated, LF can affect the lymphatic system, causing enlarged body parts, which can be extremely painful and can lead to permanent physical changes. This condition, called lymphoedema, can also be highly stigmatised. Although people with advanced LF cannot be cured, their symptoms can be eased through care practices that help manage the swelling.
The swelling made life difficult for Salifat. She was not only trying to earn a living by selling provisions like rice and oranges at her store, but she was also responsible for caring for her grandchildren after the death of one of her daughters.
“I have six children and eight grandchildren. I shoulder their responsibilities and take care of them,” says Salifat.
Once visited by the local health worker, Salifat was immediately invited to a training session to learn how to relieve the symptoms caused by LF.
“During the training, they taught us exercises we could do to help with the swelling,” says Salifat. “We were taught how to wash and dry our legs and given ointment to apply to our legs after washing them. They also told us to use pillows to elevate our legs while we sleep.
“Since receiving the training I have gotten better and I am able to do things I was not able to do before, even my walking has improved. I will continue to use the training I received and tell others about it.”