When I worked in Africa, I discovered that male menstruation was common.
It seemed that men often would have episodes of passing blood,and the local word for this was the same as the word for female menstruation.
The cause? A worm or parasitic infection that was once called bilharzia but is now known as Schistosomiasis Haematobium.

The worm spends part of it’s cycle in the rivers and ponds that are used by rural people to bathe in and clean their clothing. It then goes through the body and eventually settles in the blood vessels of the bladder area, causing bleeding. Wikipedia article has all the gory details.

Actually, although we treated cases, the treatment was expensive and nearly everyone had the disease– and would redevelop a case as soon as they went home to bathe. So we merely treated the severe cases.

You see, Schistosomiasis, like most worms and parasites, don’t kill. They merely make you weak. There are two main types of Schistosomiasis in Africa: the one that affects the bladder and a second type affects the intestinal tract and makes people weak from anemia.

There are a whole slew of such worms that affect Africa (and Asia), making people weak, anemic, and prone to infections.

They are called the “Neglected tropical diseases”, since HIV, TB, Malaria, and a dozen other diseases are more prone to kill people and have a higher priority.

But the USAID last year started funding programs to eliminate these neglected diseases.

In its first year of operations, the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) Control Program has coordinated and monitored the distribution of medicines to more than 14 million people in four African nations…

The diseases — lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma, onchocerciasis, and soil-transmitted helminths — are largely unknown in developed nations, but cause severe disability, suffering and social and economic marginalization in less-developed regions of the world. At least 1 billion people — one-sixth of the world’s population — suffer from one or more neglected tropical diseases.

Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

Their aim is to spend $100 million to treat 40 million people in the next five years.

The other diseases mentioned include worms that clog up the lymph drainage from your legs making them huge and swollen, roundworms that look like pencils that can be so numerous that they can block the intestines, worms that are tiny but when you have a thousand of them each sucking a drop of blood a day you can get devestating anemia; a worm causing “river blindness”, and a germ that causes a bad form of “pink eye” that scars the eyelids so badly that the hair turns inward and ends up constantly scratching the eyeball, leading to blindness.
I’ve treated all of these disease except for river blindness.

As I mentioned, none of these diseases kill, but they make life miserable, and one of the unmentioned successes of the present administration is that they are pushing funding and coordinating with private and UN organizations to help eliminate these diseases amongst the poor in Africa.

Such things rarely get noticed in the news, but today’s NYTimes actually has an article praising Bush for his advocacy of funding HIV programs in Africa.

Nearly five years later, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — Pepfar, for short — may be the most lasting bipartisan accomplishment of the Bush presidency….So far, roughly 1.4 million AIDS patients have received lifesaving medicine paid for with American dollars, up from 50,000 before the initiative.

So make that one under reported success of the Bush presidency.

One hopes that the next president will continue the legacy of actually implementing programs that help people, instead of merely “feeling their pain” and going back to the next item on the top of the pollster’s list.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at Hey Doc Xanga Blog. 

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