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I had never witnessed such palpable pride until I met a man who had benefited from a hydrocele operation.

We were on a field trip in Burkina Faso with VIP visitors, monitoring the progress of the global project Helen Keller Intl is leading to treat and prevent  trachoma and elephantitis.  The itinerary included a demonstration by a patient with elephantiasis in the village of Bonko in Poni region of southern Burkina Faso. The demonstration was to show us how you ensure good hygiene to prevent infections (or worse) in the swollen lower limbs. Our patient, a village woman, could hardly move about, her legs were so enlarged, but she took good care of herself, washing carefully with soap and clean water and keeping her limbs raised to reduce the swelling.

In Burkina Faso and elsewhere we are working to eliminate infections from neglected tropical diseases such as the blinding trachoma or onchocerciasis (river blindness), as well as debilitating diseases such as lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).   While these diseases can be easily treated with medicines, trachoma and elephantiasis can cause lasting impairment. In some instances lives can be improved through simple operations, however, in the event of elephantiasis — the enlargement of limbs — only palliative care can be provided. Another manifestation of elephantiasis — which is caused, to put it simply, by worms clogging the lymphatic nodes — is hydrocele testis. This is a swelling of the scrotum, and can be treated by a fairly simple operation.

After the washing demonstration, we had a casual discussion with the group of villagers crowded around to see us in the shade of a broad-crowned tree. We asked how our projects had improved lives in their community, and at that point a man who had been in the background pushed forward and spoke enthusiastically. “This project has changed my life!”

He had also been infected with elephantiasis, and before being treated his scrotum had already swollen to the size of a basketball. Although the infection had been cured, his disfigurement continued to be a debilitating burden — and a source of shame. However, thanks to the simple surgery HKI was able to provide, his debilitation was easily treated. In short order he was back to normal. “This project has changed my life!”

And there we were, with our VIP visitors, feeling the full exuberance of his pride in being normal again. He was so excited that I think he nearly dropped his trousers to show us the evidence. “We believe you — no need to show us!” we exclaimed, persuading him to keep his pants on, but we couldn’t help sharing his joy at being normal again.