LONDON Millions of people in the developing
world suffer needlessly from the disfiguring disease
elephantiasis because they cannot afford treatment or are too
embarrassed to seek it, researchers said on Wednesday.
Elephantiasis, marked by hideous swelling of the arms,
legs, head, genitals or breasts, affects 40 million people,
according to the World Health Organization, even though
treatment in the early stages is relatively straightforward.
Researchers who studied the effect of the disease in Sri
Lanka found that loss of earnings and the expense of treatment
drove many into poverty.
In particular, the research suggested that health officials
and aid groups were failing to address the fact that sufferers
often chose more discreet but expensive private clinics in
preference to more public free treatment.
"Households that were already on low incomes were pushed
into near destitution, from which it is impossible to escape,"
David Molyneux of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and
colleagues wrote in the Public Library of Science on Wednesday.
"The social isolation from the stigma of the diseases
caused emotional distress (and) delay in diagnosis and
treatment, resulting in advancement of the disease beyond
The condition, also known as lymphatic filariasis (LF), is
caused by small, thread-like parasitic worms spread by
mosquitoes that can live for years inside the human body and
thrive in the human lymphatic system.
The researchers interviewed 60 people with different stages
of LF out of an estimated 300,000 sufferers in Sri Lanka.
Many said they went to private clinics to avoid contact
with others and the stigma of exposing their limbs in free
GlaxoSmithKline's Albendazole and Merck's Mectizan are two
drugs used against the disease.
The disease also affected other family members, including
children who had to drop out of school to make up for a parent
unable to work, the researchers said.
Even if health officials succeed in eliminating
transmission of the disease in Sri Lanka, hundreds of thousands
of people will still require help for many years -- a scenario
that the researchers said was similar throughout the developing
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)