India adopts new strategy to accelerate ‘Lymphatic Filariasis’ elimination

Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda launched 'Accelerated Plan for Elimination of Lymphatic Filariasis' and phased adoption of new treatment strategy for India at the global meet held in New Delhi


New Delhi: Lymphatic Filariasis (LF) or commonly known as Elephantiasis is one of the oldest and most debilitating neglected disease, which is currently endemic in 73 countries of the world, including India. LF does not kill the affected people, but may cause permanent disfigurement, reduced productivity and social stigma.

India has now launched an Accelerated Plan for Lymphatic Filariasis Elimination (APELF) to fight the disease. Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda launched the plan while inaugurating the 10th meeting of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF) on 13th June in New Delhi.

Acknowledging that India’s LF elimination programme needs a push, Nadda said that strategies like the Triple Drug Therapy or IDA [Ivermectin, diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and Albendazole], community engagement for successful MDA implementation and use of DEC-medicated salt, which are all part of the APELF, will be deployed to strengthen the country’s LF elimination efforts.

The 10th GAELF meeting brings together various country programmes, three pharmaceutical companies (GSK, Eisai and MSD) that have donated drugs, non-governmental organizations, research organisations, donor governmental agencies, and the World Health Organization (WHO). The GAELF theme this year is ‘Celebrating progress towards elimination: Voices from the field on overcoming programme challenges’. Programme managers and senior ministerial personnel from all LF endemic countries will discuss experiences, challenges and current needs at the meeting. Eleven countries – Cambodia, Cook Islands, Egypt, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Niue, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Vanuatu – were awarded at the meeting today for eliminating LF as a public health concern.

The Minister within Ministry of Public Health, Guyana, Dr Karen Cummings was present at the inaugural session today. Echoing the call from Deputy Director-General (Programmes), World Health Organization, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan (who addressed the gathering through a video message), to combine efforts, Cummings said Guyana would work together with regional and international partners in research for vector control and acceptability of Mass Drug Administration (MDA) for LF elimination.

Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, India, Ashwini Kumar Choubey reiterated the need to address one of the major challenges – compliance to treatment. He said it is crucial to encourage the community to consume preventive medicines given out during MDA. Greater community participation, enhanced programme delivery and direct observation of treatment were also highlighted by GALEF Chair Dr Charles Mackenzie.

Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Dr Balram Bhargava spoke about the ICMR study results that showed the safety and efficacy of IDA and its roll-out in a phased manner in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Nagpur (Maharashtra), Arwal (Bihar) and Simdega (Jharkhand) soon.

The inaugural session closed with Joint Secretary, Department of Health & Family Welfare Vikas Sheel delivering the vote of thanks.