(An excerpt from the Mectizan Donation Program Annual Highlights for 2022)
In 2022 we celebrated a marvelous achievement: after decades of hard work, Malawi eliminated lymphatic filariasis (LF) as a public health problem. This is a huge victory, but it came too late for people who were already affected by LF. People like Blandina Banda.
Blandina is a fashionable young mother whose long skirt swishes as she walks through the crowded Thyolo marketplace. But it’s a hot day, and she’s wearing the long skirt for a reason: Blandina contracted LF as a child, and now her right leg and foot are severely and permanently swollen.
LF is a neglected tropical disease caused by a mosquito-borne parasite. Among other symptoms, LF can lead to painful swelling in limbs along with thickened and hardened skin that is prone to infection and frequent acute attacks. The disfigurement can lead to stigma, shame, and ostracism.
In school, Blandina was bullied to the point that she finally quit, and later in life her son’s father abandoned the family due to embarrassment. Now a single mother, she lives with her little boy, Elvis, and a foster daughter, making a meager living as a mobile money agent in town.
She often feels angry about her difficult childhood, about the stigma she faces as an adult, and about doctors’ inability to address her problem before it progressed. When the MDP team visited her, she welcomed the opportunity to tell her story as a way to advocate for change.
Blandina’s strong will and determination to succeed allowed her to carve out a life for her small family despite her disability. The future is uncertain, but she takes comfort in one fact: her son will grow up without the threat of suffering the effects of LF infection.