GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Friday November 8, 2019 – At-risk populations throughout Guyana will be treated for the lymphatic filariasis (LF) over the next month in a bid to eliminate the mosquito-borne, parasitic disease as a public health problem.
Under the Mass Drug Administration (MDA) campaign launched by the Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), health workers and volunteers visiting homes, workplaces and schools in eight of the country’s 10 regions to administer the pills.
“Eliminating lymphatic filariasis is a national, regional and global priority,” said the Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, adding that it will require commitment from not just the government and partner organizations, but from the general public as a whole in order to rid populations of this “public health scourge”.
LF is a debilitating disease that affects the lymphatic system. While it is not fatal, it can cause severe swelling in the lower extremities (elephantiasis, or ‘big foot’ as it is commonly known in the Caribbean) and genitals (hydrocele) that, once it has manifested, cannot be reversed. 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 MDA 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.
A new, triple drug therapy will be implemented during the MDA. 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 initiative, which is also being supported by the United States Center for Disease Control 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.
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.
On October 1, countries of the Americas agreed to a collective approach to the elimination of communicable diseases throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The Elimination Initiative identifies a wide range of diseases and related conditions, including lymphatic filariasis, as potential candidates for elimination in the Region, and enables countries to consolidate efforts and resources towards ending these diseases and ensuring public health.