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Carter Center Initiative Striking Out Disease on Hispaniola

For these boys, freedom from a disfiguring disease means freedom to pursue their dreams on the diamond.

Angel Ciriaco and Rigoberto Bryan are best friends who live in San Pedro de Macoris, a province in the southeastern Dominican Republic. The two 16-year-olds like to talk about school, about girls, and most of all about baseball.

Baseball is a big deal in San Pedro de Macoris, which bears almost mythical status as the birthplace of dozens of professional players in the United States — among them such famous names as Rico Carty, Sammy Sosa, and Robinson Cano.

What’s not so big in San Pedro de Macoris anymore is lymphatic filariasis, a tropical disease that once was common in the region.

Best friends Angel Ciriaco (white shirt) and Rigoberto Bryan (plaid shirt) play baseball in San Pedro de Macoris, a province in the southeastern Dominican Republic. The Carter Center works with the ministries of health in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to accelerate the elimination of malaria and lymphatic filariasis from the countries’ shared island. (Photos: The Carter Center)

Lymphatic filariasis is spread by mosquitoes, which draw parasite-laden blood from infected people and then deposit the parasitic worms in the next person they bite. With repeated bites, the worms develop inside the human body and disable the lymph system that carries excess fluid away from tissues. An infected person’s limbs (and a man’s scrotum) can swell to enormous proportions and the skin can become thick and hard, resembling an elephant’s. The condition can be prevented and halted with a combination of drugs, but the disfigurement of the limbs is irreversible.

Angel, a slick-fielding shortstop, and Rigoberto, a lanky right-handed pitcher, recently saw pictures of these conditions, and they were horrified. “I can’t see that!” Rigoberto exclaimed, shielding his eyes from a Ministry of Health informational poster with graphic images of the disease. They’re in luck: Through the mass administration of donated drugs as part of the Carter Center’s Hispaniola Initiative, the Dominican Republic has interrupted transmission of the disease in two of the country’s three focus areas. The Carter Center is also supporting LF elimination efforts in Haiti, the Dominican Republic’s next-door neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, which is the last reservoir of the disease in the Caribbean.

San Pedro de Macoris is in the area that still requires annual drug treatment. Angel, shocked by the photos, said he planned to warn all his friends and family to take their medicine.

If everyone on the island heeds Angel’s advice, complete elimination of lymphatic filariasis across Hispaniola is possible by 2020. And that would be a major-league accomplishment.

Learn more about the Center’s Hispaniola Initiative »

Posted in Countries, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Health, Hispaniola, Lymphatic Filariasis, Malaria

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