Renewed Hope For An Incurable Disease
I met Ananias Hagos on a trip to Sorsogon. He was a tall and lean 54-year-old from Brgy. Tinampo in Irosin town, a winding two-hour drive from Legaspi City. Offering a faint smile when local health workers introduced us to each other, Mang Naning to his town mates, was obviously shy and soft-spoken, uttering words which at times, only he alone could hear. Sad to say, Mang Naning has been suffering from a debilitating disease for the past twenty years.
Mang Naning is afflicted with a tropical parasitic disease called lymphatic filariasis (LF) or tibak. LF affects over 100 million people in more than 70 tropical and subtropical countries. Mosquitoes transmit the parasite that causes LF. Initially, infections may have no symptoms, but often they are associated with acute syndromes such as inflammation of lymphatic channels or lymphangitis with fever. Among the chronic complications are hydroceles in men, and the most dreaded outcome of infection? physically and socially disabling elephantiasis of the extremities, just like what befell Mang Naning.
Mang Naning was limping due to his heavy left leg, aching because of the sores caused by secondary infection. And the sad part is, nobody?s around to care for him. His wife left him for another man almost two decades ago because he could no longer provide for the family after he was forced to quit working in the farm due to his condition. And worse, his wife left their only daughter with him. His daughter married when she turned 18, leaving Mang Naning alone, again.
He vividly recalls how this seeming Calvary started. It was in 1981 when he first noticed the swelling of his left foot. He didn?t pay too much attention to it until it developed sores, and later on abscess due to secondary infection. ?Nagpunta naman ako sa duktor. Akala ko kasi normal lang na sakit sa balat,? says Mang Naning. ?Hindi kaagad nalaman kasi hindi ko naman pinatingnan dugo ko. Di naman ako nagduda na may problema ako sa kalusugan. Di ko inintindi, tuloy pa rin sa trabaho. Nagpupunta lang ako sa duktor pag dumudugo yung mga sugat ko.? (I did go to a doctor. I thought it was just an ordinary skin disease. The condition was not immediately diagnosed, as I did not undergo blood test. I did not suspect that I was sick. I ignored it and continued with my work. I only went to the doctor when my sores were bleeding.)
Mang Naning was just fortunate that he didn?t become the butt of jokes because in Sorsogon, tibak is a normal condition. I found out later from the Provincial Health Unit that all municipalities in Sorsogon are considered endemic areas. Health workers noted that Mang Naning must have contracted LF due to his exposure to axil plants like banana trees that abound near his house. Axil plants like banana, abaca, pandanus and gabi make perfect breeding grounds for filarial-carrying mosquitoes because water accumulates in its axils.
?Normal lang pakiramdam ko. Di ko ginawang hadlang yung sakit ko para di ako maging kapaki-pakinabang. Kasi kung papaapekto ka, lalo ka lang maaawa sa sarili mo. Nahihirapan nga ako sa kundisyon ko pero basta may gamot, gumiginhawa pakiramdam ko.? (I feel normal. I don?t allow my condition to stop me from becoming useful. If I will let myself be affected, I will just have self-pity. I suffer from my condition but if there?s medication, I feel some improvement).
At present, Mang Naning lives with his mother. His younger sister, who is also his neighbor, helps him with some of his needs. He continues to be as productive as he can by doing odd jobs for his neighbors. He delivers water and gets a measly Php300 a month. He also has a mini piggery. But he laments he could have done more had he not contracted the disease. ?Iba rin pag wala kang karamdaman, mas malaya kang makakakilos. Pero tanggap ko naman kalagayan ko sa ngayon. Nagpapasalamat ako at maalaga ang mga health workers dito lalong-lalo na sa mga nagbibigay ng donasyon na gamot,? he said. (It?s entirely different if one were free from any sickness; you can move around freely. But I have already accepted my fate. I am grateful to the health workers here who are caring and most especially to those who have donated the medicines.)
Waging the fight against lymphatic filariasis
The Department of Health (DoH) has estimated there are more than 200,000 cases of LF with the prevalence in established endemic areas at 7/1,000. In its desire to combat the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2000, in partnership with the DoH and now with the Coalition for the Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis (CELF) Philippines started the campaign against LF in the country. The goal is to eliminate the disease in 20 years. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has pledged to provide the anti-parasitic drug albendazole until LF is eliminated as a public health problem. Some 83 million tablets are allocated for the Philippines alone.
The DoH has started house-to-house mass treatments in Bicol and CARAGA where everyone from two years old and above are given medicine once for the next 5-6 years for disease prevention. For those already afflicted, the medicines can prevent the disease from worsening.
The WHO believes the disease is potentially eradicable. All that is needed is an aggressive drive, a considerable inventory of medicines and community health education. That way, Mang Naning and some other LF patients, especially those who are still in its initial stages, will have renewed hope.
About the Author: Mildred Donato Villapando earned her bachelor's degree in Broadcast Communication at Centro Escolar University Manila. She was a media practitioner for 5 years, covering mostly political beats. She now works as a copywwriter for a topnotch PR firm in the Philippines.