Guyana launches mass drug campaign to end elephantiasis

Saturday, November 09, 2019

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (CMC) – At-risk populations throughout Guyana will, over the next month, be treated for lymphatic filariasis (LF), commonly known as elephantiasis, in a bid to eliminate the disease as a public health problem.

The Ministry of Public Health, Guyana, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), launched the mass drug administration campaign that will see health workers and volunteers visiting homes, workplaces and schools in eight regions throughout the country to administer the pills.

“Eliminating lymphatic filariasis is a national, regional and global priority,” said Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence.

She stressed that it will require commitment from not just the government and partner organisations, but from the general public as a whole in order to rid populations of this “public health scourge”.

Over the next month, health workers will provide pills to prevent lymphatic filariasis in a variety of locations in all endemic areas.

Lymphatic filariasis is a debilitating, mosquito-borne, parasitic disease. While it is not fatal it affects the lymphatic system, leading to a variety of permanent, debilitating symptoms including severe swelling of the genitals (hydrocele) and lower extremities (elephantiasis, or “big foot” as it is commonly known in Guyana).

Around 60,000 people in Guyana are already affected by LF and approximately 500,000 live in endemic areas, at risk of contracting the disease.

“This mass drug represents the final stage in an initiative that will see a huge reduction in the cost to society of LF – the cost of drugs, the cost of the stigma. This, for me, is priceless,” said Dr William Adu-Krow, PAHO/WHO representative in Guyana.

The initiative, which is also being supported by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with funding from USAID and the End Fund, consists of three phases: A remapping survey, which ended in July 2019, to show which regions are endemic; the mass drug administration to provide preventative treatment for people living in endemic regions; and treatment of those already infected with LF in order to manage symptoms and reduce morbidity.

A new triple-drug therapy will be implemented during the drug campaign. This includes the use of Ivermectin, along with Diethylcarbamazine and Albendazole – a combination which has been proven to significantly reduce the burden of filarial infection while also treating scabies, lice and intestinal worms.

The decision to implement this therapy was taken by Guyana in order to scale up activities to eliminate filaria transmission and receive WHO validation by 2025. The country is also increasing efforts to provide care for those already affected by the disease.


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