It Calmed my Spirit

Jun 08, 2017

By: John Uniack Davis, Regional Director, West Africa, Helen Keller International 

This is part one of a six-part series.



The government and people of Mali are confronted with many challenges as they fight to pull the country out of poverty.  Everyday, challenges of making a living and caring for one’s family are even more difficult for those suffering from a disfiguring and disabling neglected tropical disease (NTD) like lymphatic filariasis (LF). A common complication of LF is hydrocele, an accumulation of fluid in the scrotum, around the testicles, that causes one or both to swell.  It can have devastating social and economic effects, making it difficult to work or even walk, and subjecting those suffering from it to stigma and ostracism. 

In Mali, cases of hydrocele are more common than those of lymphedema – another manifestation of LF. Hydrocele generally affects men older than age 35, often much older, but this is not always the case. 

I recently visited Mali’s Ségou Region and had the opportunity to talk with six men who had benefited from life-changing hydrocele surgery over the past couple of years, thanks to the generous financial support of the END Fund and technical support from Helen Keller International (HKI) and the Malian Ministry of Health.

The stories of these men are illustrative of both the debilitating impact of the disease, as well as the hope that can be offered with an investment in surgery and efforts aimed at eventually eradicating LF and other NTDs. Each story will be told as part of a series showing the transformative power of surgery.

Mamadou Coulibaly
Photo: Marily Knieriemen

When Mamadou Coulibaly, age 70, noticed a few years ago that his scrotum was steadily growing, he went to a health clinic to be examined.  The doctor there proposed surgery.  In the Bla District of Ségou Region, hydrocele surgery and related medicine costs about $125, nearly one-fifth of Mali’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $724 for a whole year, and per capita GDP is generally much lower than that outside of Mali’s national capital. So, with the costs of surgery way out of reach for him, Mamadou suffered in silence, having trouble urinating and afraid of social stigma.  One day he heard a radio announcement saying that HKI would be offering hydrocele surgery free of charge.  He did not tell anyone before going in for the surgery.  After the surgery and three days of hospitalization, he was very pleased with the result – “My body is less heavy – I am at ease,” he told me.  Mamadou is now a big advocate for hydrocele surgery and encourages other men with hydrocele to get it if they have the opportunity.

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