This week, the Indian government is leading one of the largest mass drug administrations (MDAs) to eliminate lymphatic filariasis (LF), a debilitating disease that threatens nearly 352 million people in India.
Also known as elephantiasis, or hathipaon in Hindi, LF causes swelling in the limbs and reproductive system. LF also causes acute pain, thickening of the skin in swollen areas and, left untreated, can lead to infection and disability. Symptoms are very slow to develop and may not appear until later in life, even if someone is infected as a child.
Though India alone accounts for more than 40 percent of the global burden of LF, the country has made remarkable strides since launching annual MDAs in 2004. Its annual LF MDA, led by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) , is considered one of the largest public health campaigns in the world.
This year, the MDA will take place nationwide from December 14-20. During this time, the government will distribute age- and weight-based doses of diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and albendazole — anti-parasitic medications that prevent and expel parasites. These medicines, which are given to everyone over age 2 and those whom are not ill or pregnant, also protect from intestinal worm infections. The treatment is safe and free and delivered to communities through accredited social health activists (ASHAs) and other community-based drug distributors.
Another Important aspect of prevention is knowing how LF is spread. In a recent op-ed, Dr. Madan Mohan Pradhan explained the misconceptions that lead to infection, social stigma and discrimination. He said, despite public awareness campaigns, he still encounters people who believe LF is caused by curses and genetics. As the joint director of health services for the NVBDCP in Odisha, an LF-endemic state, Dr. Pradhan has spent his career combating LF in India and knows from personal experience what it’s like to have the disease.
For its part, the Global Network is working to raise awareness of the disease and promote greater compliance among the public. This video PSA, created by the Global Network in partnership with the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising and Little Lamb Films, highlights the importance and safety of taking the pills provided to treat and prevent LF.
These final few years of MDAs are critical to achieving success. Some states have already interrupted transmission of the disease and no longer need to provide medication to entire communities. Many districts in Odisha have also reached this goal.
To continue to make progress toward elimination, the remaining districts must have successful MDAs in 2015. The good news is India is on track. India will likely eliminate LF before the global target of 2020, due in large part to the government’s strong political commitment to combating this pernicious disease.