By John Uniack Davis, Regional Director, West Africa, Helen Keller International
The government and people of Mali are confronted with many challenges as they fight to pull the country out of poverty. Everyday, challenges of making a living and caring for one’s family are even more difficult for those suffering from a disfiguring and disabling neglected tropical disease(NTD) like lymphatic filariasis (LF). A common complication of LF is hydrocele, an accumulation of fluid in the scrotum, around the testicles, that causes one or both to swell. It can have devastating social and economic effects, making it difficult to work or even walk, and subjecting those suffering from it to stigma and ostracism.
In Mali, cases of hydrocele are more common than those of lymphedema – another manifestation of LF. Hydrocele generally affects men older than age 35, often much older, but this is not always the case.
I recently visited Mali’s Ségou Region and had the opportunity to talk with six men who had benefited from life-changing hydrocele surgery over the past couple of years, thanks to the generous financial support of the END Fund and technical support from Helen Keller International (HKI) and the Malian Ministry of Health.
The stories of these men are illustrative of both the debilitating impact of the disease, as well as the hope that can be offered with an investment in surgery and efforts aimed at eventually eradicating LF and other NTDs. Each story will be told as part of a series showing the transformative power of surgery.
The issue of stigma and shame comes up again and again when talking to those once afflicted with hydrocele. Ngoro Adama Dembélé, a 49-year-old nursing assistant in Somasso, near Bla, had a slow-growing hydrocele for over a decade, and it became so large that it was very noticeable through his trousers when he walked around his community.
As he talked to me about his condition, he rubbed his thick, calloused hands together anxiously – “I was ashamed; I was very ashamed,” he says. As the hydrocele grew, he also experienced physical pain along with his psychological stress. By virtue of his job at the health center, Adama heard about the opportunity for surgery, which he seized eagerly. He smiled easily and broadly as he described the impact of the surgery upon his life – “No more shame, no more pain!”
This is part five of a six-part series. Read the story of Yacouba Diarra in part six.