Overview: Parasitic Diseases Thrive in AIDS' Shadow Parasitic diseases such as schistosomiasis and lymphatic filariasis have come to be called neglected diseases, even though they infect about 1 billion people worldwide and are easily preventable. But some international donors are trying to change that in Nigeria.

Overview: Parasitic Diseases Thrive in AIDS' Shadow

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NPR's Joanne Silberner reports that international donors are trying to change that in Nigeria and across Africa.


JOANNE SILBERNER: Dr. Abel Eigege, one of the event's organizers, says this medicine will prevent a painful and disfiguring disease.

D: What is happening is the station where we're treating people for lymphatic filariasis.

SILBERNER: Lymphatic filariasis, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes that breed in the stagnant water that collects in the alleys and side streets of Jos.

D: Our hope is that most of the people will turn out to be treated.

SILBERNER: There are already more people than the health workers can handle quickly.

D: They stay throughout the day, and if it finishes - the session for today finishes, tomorrow they come back again.

SILBERNER: Dabiyak Damulak, health commissioner of this region, says these are neglected diseases because he has other, bigger health problems to worry about.

M: We tend to focus on the pressing issues and then allocate resources.

SILBERNER: These diseases are so prevalent they've become almost a condition of life here. The parasites that cause them breed in the water that people drink and swim in, water that stands in urban ditches and rural ponds and rushes in river gullies in the rainy season.


SILBERNER: Near the rural town of Nasarawa North, young boys happily splash in a river that most likely contains the parasite that causes schistosomiasis.

U: (Speaking foreign language)

U: (Speaking foreign language)

U: (Speaking foreign language)

SILBERNER: Neglected diseases hurt people economically. In a nearby village, we met nine- year-old Monday Mweke who had guinea worm disease. It's so painful it can keep farmers from working their fields for months at a time. When Monday Mweke was ill he wasn't able to help his mother with family chores.

U: (Speaking foreign language)

U: (Speaking foreign language)

SILBERNER: Monday Mweke is an ambitious boy. He whispers that he wants to have a big job someday.

U: (Speaking foreign language)

U: (Speaking foreign language)

SILBERNER: Neglected diseases can also be socially devastating. Health worker John Umaru tells the story of a woman with lymphatic filariasis who was ostracized because of her swollen limbs.

M: She couldn't attend her church services. People would be running away from her. Nobody would like to come close and sit with her. If she comes and sits down while somebody is already seated, the person might leave.

SILBERNER: Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Two hundred million people in developing countries have schistosomiasis. It usually does not kill, but it weakens people already on the edge. And later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, NPR's Joanne Silberner will report on a doctor trying to take the measure of that disease in Central Nigeria.

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