Notre Dame's fight to end lymphatic filariasis

Author: Andy Fuller

Nddoc Edited

It’s a little more than an hour by car from the village of Léogâne to the Port-au-Prince office of Dr. Joseline Marhone, Haiti’s director of food and nutrition in the Ministry of Public Health and Population. It’s an instructive ride. The car is ventilated for passengers only by rolling down the windows, and then only when it’s moving, which isn’t as often as those accustomed to milder climates may like. Even in the city, the roads are winding, and the route seems devoid of right angles — indeed, of any angles at all. It’s a circuitous route to an unmarked destination. The office itself bears no markings of a government building. It’s literally a cargo container, roughly the size of a small semi-tractor trailer, with a hole cut in the side to accommodate a wall-mounted air conditioning unit, and a door affixed to a cut-out opening at the front.

At the least, it’s an unlikely place for Marhone to wax optimistic about her country’s prospects for dealing with lymphatic filariasis (LF), a cruel and debilitating mosquito-borne disease that has plagued Haiti for generations. Nevertheless, Marhone’s countenance, already bright, gleams when the subject is raised.

Lfpatient Edited

“The future is positive,” Marhone says with a smile. “We’re not far from 2020.”

She’s speaking both literally and metaphorically. Notre Dame founded the Haiti Program in 1997 with the ambitious finish line of 2020 in the race to eliminate LF in the nation. The disease affects about two million Haitians, and is present in 118 of the nation’s 140 communes (similar to American counties). Moreover, it’s the second leading cause of debilitation and disfigurement in the world, affecting 120 million people, while a total of 1.2 billion people live at risk of infection in parts of the world where the disease is present.

Such was the plight that compelled Rev. Thomas G. Streit, C.S.C., the Haiti Program’s founder and principal investigator. Today, Notre Dame's involvement is aided by an engaged Haitian government and a host of partner organizations working on a three-pronged attack on LF. In recent months, some encouraging test results have put 2020 — not just the year, but also its symbolic meaning — in square view.

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