PERSONAL PROFILE OF IRENE

Irene Afful, formally known as Irene Abakah Biney is a 16 year old girl who was born on the 8th of May 2000.Irene doesn’t know her but parents but she stays with her maternal

grandmother at Tadisco down until they were ejected. She was told by her grandmother that her father is abroad and her mother is in Kumasi.

She used to stay with her paternal grandmother, but her maternal grandmother went for her and the father’s family stopped taking care of her since then. Irene has an elder brother who also dropped out of school and now runs a game center at Tanokrom .

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND 

Whiles staying with her paternal grandmother, Irene was schooling at but when she was taken away she enrolled in Anaji MA primary school. She was schooling there till her leg began swelling. In class four, it became worse and she dropped out of school.

THE DISEASE 

Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis, is a neglected tropical disease. Infection occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes. Infection is usually acquired in childhood causing hidden damage to the lymphatic system.

The painful and profoundly disfiguring visible manifestations of the disease, lymphoedema, elephantiasis and scrotal swelling occur later in life and lead to permanent disability. These patients are not only physically disabled, but suffer mental, social and financial losses contributing to stigma and poverty.

Currently, 1.10 billion people in 55 countries are living in areas that require preventive chemotherapy to stop the spread of infection. Approximately 80% of these people are living in the following 10 countries: Angola, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire , Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Globally, an estimated 25 million men suffer with genital disease and over 15 million people are afflicted with lymphoedema. Eliminating lymphatic filariasis can prevent unnecessary suffering and contribute to the reduction of poverty.

CAUSES AND TRANSMISSION 

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infection with parasites classified as nematodes (roundworms) of the family Filariodidea. There are 3 types of these thread-like filarial worms:

Wuchereria bancrofti, which is responsible for 90% of the cases

Brugia malayi, which causes most of the remainder of the cases

Brugia timori, which also causes the disease.

Adult worms lodge in the lymphatic system and disrupt the immune system. The worms can live for an average of 6–8 years and, during their life time, produce millions of microfilariae (immature larvae) that circulate in the blood.

Mosquitoes are infected with microfilariae by ingesting blood when biting an infected host. Microfilariae mature into infective larvae within the mosquito. When infected mosquitoes bite people, mature parasite larvae are deposited on the skin from where they can enter the body. The larvae then migrate to the lymphatic vessels where they develop into adult worms, thus continuing a cycle of transmission.

Lymphatic filariasis is transmitted by different types of mosquitoes for example by the Culex mosquito, widespread across urban and semi-urban areas, Anopheles, mainly found in rural areas, and Aedes, mainly in endemic islands in the Pacific.

Symptoms

Lymphatic filariasis infection involves asymptomatic, acute, and chronic conditions. The majority of infections are asymptomatic, showing no external signs of infection. These asymptomatic infections still cause damage to the lymphatic system and the kidneys, and alter the body's immune system.

Acute episodes of local inflammation involving skin, lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels often accompany chronic lymphoedema or elephantiasis. Some of these episodes are caused by the body's immune response to the parasite. Most are the result of bacterial skin infection, however, where normal defences have been partially lost due to underlying lymphatic damage.

When lymphatic filariasis develops into chronic conditions it leads to lymphoedema (tissue swelling) or elephantiasis (skin/tissue thickening) of limbs and hydrocele (scrotal swelling). Involvement of breasts and genital organs is common. Such body deformities lead to social stigma, as well as financial hardship from loss of income and increased medical expenses. The socioeconomic burdens of isolation and poverty are immense.

IRENE’S CONDITION

Irene and her grandmother travelled to Ahanta West District of the Western Region of Ghana , an elephantiasis prone area for a funeral. When they returned to Takoradi, her grandmother noticed her leg was getting swollen. She thought it’s one of those minor illnesses so she used herbal medicine to treat it but it kept getting worse by the day. Irene became seriously ill and her grandmother got scared because she thought she was going to lose her. She got better but her leg deteriorated and due to that, she dropped out of school.

When they took her to the hospital it was worsening already and the medication that was administered was the vaccination drug. She was asked not to walk excessively on her leg.

FAMILY RESPONSE TO HER CONDITION

When she dropped out of school, she became lonely so she would normally leave the house and sit by the roadside or by the street and watch people pass by. Her grandmother asked her to stop roaming but she would always go outside due to boredom and so her grandmother just stopped catering for her.

Her grandmother went away to seek for healing for Irene’s aunty who had also paralyzed. She left Irene in the care of her elder brother, her uncle and two of Irene’s cousins.

The first week she was fed and taken care of but the weeks that followed, everyone went about their business and forgot about her. She then went back to sitting by the roadside during the day and sneaking into the family house at night to perch with her cousin named Mercy. She would then wake up very early and go to the roadside to continue with her sleep and when she was hungry, she would go to friends whose parents sold food so she can beg for food.

The people in the family house noticed she comes to sleep there so her uncle was called to come and take her away since, people came to the house often to enquire about her and they didn’t want that attention. Her brother and her uncle came for her again and the first two days she was fed and taken care of the days that followed, they went about their business neglecting her. She told me she really starved while she was there and that her teenage cousin who had 3 young children had to share her children’s meal with her. Sometimes there was no food at all and she had to sleep on an empty stomach.

PHILANTROPIST 

The owner of Jomra Electricals in Takoradi helped her to acquire her national health card and said he will help her. Also a Rasta man approached her family but they were not welcoming. In narrating her story, she said a lady named Kate befriended her and told her, her boss a white man wants to help her. They tried to see the family but it yielded no result.

When I asked the grandmother about it she said it’s because she doesn’t stay at home always that’s why they don’t come back.

STIGMATIZATION 

She dropped out of school due to the way people stirred at her anytime she went to school. Her confidence level dwindled and she had to be by herself anytime the other children in the house went to school.

She dreams of becoming an actress, but someone discouraged her that she can only be a vendor in the market due to her condition and not an actress.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

As the days go by, her leg gets bigger, she grows thinner, and her dreams become unachievable. She needs medical attention as soon as possible to help her get back to school to pursue her dream of becoming an actress.

Please help a soul in need. It could happen to anyone, she could be your daughter or your sister. Please help Irene.

HELP FINALLY CAME

With the help of my friends on what'sapp and other social media platforms, we raised money for her medical treatment and got a National health insurance scheme card for her. The money was not enough to cater for her schooling, so I kept seeking for more funds by speaking to friends in my cycle.

School resumed and I sadly had to leave for Accra and this meant leaving Irene behind. I was really sad but I could not leave her just like that so I went to speak to Social welfare to help get her into a school, I also asked a friend to be checking up on from time to time. I gave her a phone for her to contact me and also for me to be checking up on her from time to time.

Whiles in school, I kept calling social welfare to get her into school. I kept calling till I was finally given the number of the assemble man in Irene’s area, we had hope of Irene finally going back to school.

I asked my friend to make enquiries on schools around and we found just one school which is closest to her house. I then asked the assemble man to seek for admission for Irene. He went to the school for the prospectors but didn’t mention her condition to them. He was asked to bring her to come and write an entrance examination, he informed me and I contacted an entrepreneur friend named De'llah who runs an NGO that sends street children to school.

Earlier that year, I had told De'llah about Irene and her condition and he promised to pay her fees but he was worried about Irene being stigmatized in school. I assured him that Irene is over that since I encourage her all the time and that she really wants to go back to school to achieve her dream of becoming an actress.

De'llah sent us the money for Irene’s tuition fees. I asked my friend who made enquiries earlier to call the assemble man and go with him to the school with Irene so she can write the entrance exams.

THE STIGMA BIGINS AGAIN

The day finally came and we were all excited for Irene because she will soon be schooling again.

On a Friday morning Eunice, my friend and the assemble man went to the school but without Irene. It was then that the assemble man informed him about Irene’s condition. The headmaster then asked that they bring Irene for him to exam her. When Irene was brought to the school the headmaster said he cannot admit her until he speaks to the proprietor about Irene and her condition. He then asked that they return on Tuesday for feedback of his meeting with the proprietor.

Tuesday finally came and the assemble man returned to the school for the feedback. He met with the proprietor of the school who is one of the most respected lawyers in Takoradi.

The outcome of the meeting was not a good one. The lawyer rejected Irene on the basis of her condition. I was very disappointed when the assemble man informed me. I couldn’t image that someone who knows the laws of the country so well would reject a student to his school because she is physically challenged. Irene is just like any normal child, it’s not her fault that her leg is swollen.

PROBLEM AT HAND 

This school is the only closest school in the area and Irene has been rejected from coming there because of her swollen left leg. Which school will take Irene?

I contacted a journalist friend about it but he is not around at the moment. De’llah the benefactor was also really disappointed and has decided to go down to Takoradi to try and talk to the lawyer about accepting Irene into his school.

EXPECTATIONS 

I am sharing Irene’s story so the world can come to Irene’s aid. I know that by the end of Afrilabs gathering 2016, Irene will get admitted into a school that will not stigmatize her and that her treatment, education and feeding fully funded.

ACKNOWLEGDEMENTS

I am really grateful to GhanaThink Foundation, RUDEP of University of Ghana main campus what’s App group, University of Ghana Pax Romana of City Campus, Takoradi Social Connect What’s App group, Young African Women in leadership, PiloloGH and all my contacts on what’s App who donated money for Irene to be sent to the hospital when her condition became critical.

I will also like to appreciate Herbert Acheampong, Papa Angoe, Mawutor and Kwame legend for encouraging me not to give up and helping me to put up a documentary to seek for help for Irene Andrews and Jackie of Rotract club for paying for Irene’s national health insurance card.

Also to Eunice Kyere Baah, I am so grateful to you for checking up on Irene and taking her to the hospital when she fell ill while I was in school. I really appreciate you taking a day off your internship just to help Irene. God richly bless you.

De’llah Lukutor words cannot describe how  grateful I am for your support towards getting Irene back to school. It is my prayer that the Almighty will continue to flourish your endeavors.

Thanks to everyone who has been helping Irene who’s name I might have forgotten to mention. God bless you all abundantly.

CONCLUSION 

The journey for help still continues and I know help will come from Afrilabs gathering 2016.

I strongly feel it!!!

Thank you.

Irene and I



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