The short documentary above describes efforts by citizens of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana (South America), to battle a Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) problem caused by the city’s underdeveloped sanitation and water filtration systems that are drawing in mosquitos. LF is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) listed by the WHO and, like many of the NTDs, is physically unforgettable. Elephantiasis is a condition that can develop from LF and the term has a laymen’s feel to it, somewhat insensitively comparing the physical symptoms associated with the disease (see picture below) to an animal. This can affect limbs and the scrotum in men, and is due to a blockage in lymphatic flow through the body causing edematous swelling. The people interviewed mention the stigma and embarrassment caused by the disease, which is unfortunate and delves into the societal exacerbation of illness due to misunderstanding and fear. A recent review in the journal PLoS NTDs covered people’s experiences with the disease from around the world.
I’ve personally always been fascinated by the NTDs, perhaps because they have an almost other-wordly appearance to them. Frankly, the fact that they are truly problems of underdevelopment is a reminder that they are indeed from another world, a world that lacks the infrastructure to eradicate diseases born from the perfect storm of a tropical climate and rudimentary sanitation/sewage resulting from poverty.
Most US clinicians will never encounter LF or any NTDs, except from recent travelers who may have unknowingly picked something up.