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  • Rukoh Kanu shows how lymphatic filariasis has enlarged her leg.
  • Group joins to learn more about the impact of the disease.
  • Rukoh Kanum manages household chores with relief from medication.
  • Yeabu Fornah has lived with the disease for over a decade.
  • Kadiatou Sankoh's symptoms developed more recently.
  • In men, it can cause swelling of the scrotum, called hydrocele.
  • Aiah Sam is the focal point for the district and a key partner of Helen Keller, helping to put an end to the transmission of lymphatic filariasis.
  • Sulaiman Tarawalie is one of 30,000 Helen Keller trained health workers in Sierra Leone.
  • We have successfully ended transmission of lymphatic filariasis in 15 of the country’s 16 health districts, freeing millions from this debilitating disease.
  • Further, Sierra Leone has just launched a sustainability plan for the control of neglected tropical diseases.

Once upon a time, lymphatic filariasis plagued the entire country of Sierra Leone. The parasite-borne neglected tropical disease, transmitted through mosquitos, causes severe swelling and painful enlargement of body parts. In Sierra Leone’s Krio language, the extreme swelling of legs is called “bigfut.”

Although it is preventable and treatable, once it reaches the stage of elephantiasis, lymphatic filariasis cannot be reversed. In addition to severely impairing someone’s quality of life and making it nearly impossible to earn a living, the disease attaches devastating social stigma to those who suffer from it.

Fast forward to today, however, and people all across this West African nation are reclaiming their futures. More than 30,000 community healthcare workers across Sierra Leone have worked tirelessly to educate people about “bigfut,” distribute medication to prevent it, ease pain for those already suffering from the disease, and stop its transmission.

This progress is made possible with the generous support of FHI 360 through USAID’s Act to End Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) | West Program, The END Fund, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and our generous community of donors.

We were privileged to have New York Times journalist Nick Kristof join Helen Keller Chief Program Officer Shawn Baker and Communications Officer Alpha Sesay on a recent visit to Sierra Leone. Kristof has featured Helen Keller’s path to eliminating lymphatic filariasis in Sierra Leone in his column.

Photo credits:

  • 1, 3-10: Alpha Sesay, Helen Keller Intl
  • 2: Malin Fesehai, The New York Times