I'm from Togo and for many years I suffered from a disease known as lymphatic filariasis. Togo is one of 37 countries in Africa that have been affected by the serious parasitic condition - more commonly known as elephantiasis - which is transmitted through mosquito bites. I'm far from alone in having suffered from this debilitating disease. Lymphatic filariasis currently affects more than 36 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability and social stigma.

My condition began with the sudden onset of a mysterious fever, accompanied by heavy nausea. My wife quickly took me to the village hospital where I was treated with anti-malarial drugs and a tetanus vaccine. Despite this, my range of painful symptoms - including the chronic swelling of my arms, legs and genitals - continued to worsen, and I was ultimately forced to abandon my job as a driver and mechanic. The loss of my health was terrible; but the loss of my job was, in some ways, even worse. I desperately needed to continue to work, as my salary was just enough to support my wife and our seven children. It has been heartbreaking to watch my family go hungry.

I began hearing about the World Health Organization's lymphatic filariasis elimination programme, which was being rolled out across West Africa. The program eventually reached my village and I was given albendazole tablets, donated by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Mectizan tablets, donated by Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD). I also attended mobility management sessions, given by a local nurse; and it was at these classes that I learned about the importance of regular washing because it helps control the symptoms of LF. Then I underwent hydrocele surgery, which has improved my life dramatically.

In fact, thanks to the support I received, my ability to manage my condition has greatly improved, I've regained my confidence and I have been able to go back to work. I now farm pigs and - more importantly - can provide for my family once again, which means my children are able to go to school. Togo is the first African country to interrupt disease transmission and it is our hope that no future generations will ever have to suffer from lymphatic filariasis. — As told to Tony Greenway

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Published: June 2018

Images: GSK