Reposted from InterAmerican Development Bank.
Eighteen years ago in her hometown of Georgetown, Guyana, Bernadette Seenarine came down with what at first seemed like a cold with fever. The symptoms quickly went away. Little did she know at the time that she had been infected with microfilaria, a tiny parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis, a disease commonly known as elephantiasis. In Guyana it is simply known as “big foot.”
Today, Seenarine has limited mobility due to the damage the parasites have caused in her leg. Elephantiasiscauses a thickening of the skinand underlying tissues than can cause certain parts of the body to swell. She spends most of her time at her two-story home, where she operates a small grocery shop at the ground level.
An estimated 68,000 people or 9 percent of Guyana’s population could be infected with this debilitating disease transmitted by the culex mosquito. The insect has found the city of Georgetown and its surroundings an ideal breeding ground due to the combination of frequent flooding, low level areas, and poor drainage and sewer systems. Together, those factors create areas for stagnant water with enough organic material for the insect larva to feed on.
To tackle this problem and other water-related parasitic diseases, Guyana initiated a program in 2010, with support from the IDB, to upgrade Georgetown’s sewer system, support treatment of these diseases, promote public health activities, and control the proliferation of mosquitos.
The project includes replacement of the 5.5-kilometer sewerage ring main in Georgetown along with all the delivery mains, and purchase of additional pumps and maintenance equipment. These works will stop frequent blockages and ruptures in the 80-year old sewer system that can expose residents to untreated wastewater.The project has also undertaken a public awareness campaign about prevention and treatment of elephantiasis, and has trained 350 volunteers who will be distributing more than 1.3 million pills of specialized drugs every year for the next five years to fight this disease as well as others caused by intestinal parasites.
As a joint sanitation and health intervention, the project represents an innovative multi-sector model to fight parasitic diseases in the country. It is expected to benefit more than 310,000 people—almost half of Guyana’s population—with the aim of making stories like that of Seenarine a thing of the past.