Elephantiasis elimination programme reaches 600m people in 2009

15 June 2010

Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), commonly known as Elephantiasis and one of the world's leading causes of chronic illness, is on track to become one of the first parasitic diseases transmitted by a mosquito to be eliminated worldwide. The programme has already saved developing countries over $21bn by preventing loss of productivity.

Representatives from more than 50 countries attended the Sixth Meeting of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF) in Seoul earlier this month, to review the progress of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (Global Programme), which seeks to eliminate the disease by 2020.

More than 1 billion people in 80 countries are at risk for LF, commonly referred to as 'elephantiasis'. The debilitating and disfiguring disease causes extreme swelling of the legs and, in men, often the scrotum, as well as frequent and painful episodes of fever. In India alone, the disease costs its economy $1.5 billion a year in lost productivity. The Global Programme's strategy to eliminate LF is to first stop the spread of infection and second to alleviate the suffering of affected individuals.

Since the launch of the Global Programme in 2000, more than 2.5 billion treatments have been delivered. In 2009, more than 600 million people in 53 countries were treated according to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures. At the meeting, WHO presented its draft plans for the coming decade, emphasizing that the scale of the programme will make it the largest in public health history.

"We are making remarkable progress on addressing this vitally important cause," explained Dr. David H. Molyneux, Executive Secretary, GAELF. "When the Global Programme was launched, we set very ambitious goals that required making tremendous progress quickly. We are meeting these goals. LF has been successfully eliminated in China and Korea, and is coming under control in a growing number of countries, protecting millions of children each year from becoming infected and bringing many other health benefits."

There is also an economic imperative that drives the Global Programme. According to a study published in a recent PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the GAELF effort is responsible for $21.8 billion in economic savings over the first 8 years of the Global Programme(1).

The success of the LF program in rapidly scaling up is due to the contributions of GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co. Inc. They have donated billions of tablets of albendazole and ivermectin, respectively, the principal drugs used for community treatment.

The LF program has also benefited from the financial support of a number of key partners, including USAID, the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Izumi Foundation and country governments.

Partners have supported the LF program because of its low cost and high impact and its value as a platform for delivering other medications targeting NTDs which affect the world's poorest populations.

The LF program is likely to receive another significant boost from President Obama's Global Health Initiative (GHI), which has identified the elimination of this disease as a priority. Similarly, USAID recently issued a call for proposals for an expanded effort to deliver treatment for NTDs, including LF.

More information

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF):


1. Brian K Chu, Pamela J Hooper, Mark H Bradley, Deborah A McFarland, Eric A Ottesen (2010)The Economic Benefits Resulting from the First 8 Years of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (2000-2007) PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases: Research Article, published 01 Jun 2010 10.1371/journal.pntd.0000708

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