Three more countries eliminate lymphatic filariasis

WHO Media Release
8 October 2018

MANILA, 8 October 2018 – Palau, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna have eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem, bringing to 11 the number of countries and areas validated since 2000 in the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Region.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo marked the accomplishment by presenting certificates to representatives from Palau, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna during the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, which opened today in Manila, Philippines.

We sincerely congratulate Palau, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna for eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem,” Dr Shin said. “Decades of their effort with support from partners—including the governments of France, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America—as well as donations of medicines have enabled them to achieve this milestone and ensure future generations are safe from this dreadful disease.

Dr Shin Young-soo, Regional Director, WHO Western Pacific

A mosquito-borne disease, lymphatic filariasis is one of 15 neglected tropical diseases that are endemic in the WHO Western Pacific Region. Also known as elephantiasis, the disease is painful and can lead to permanent disfigurement and disability, often causing people to lose their livelihood and suffer from stigma, depression and anxiety.

“Lymphatic filariasis used to be endemic in several parts of Viet Nam, putting millions of people at risk. Thanks to decades of support from WHO and other development partners, we finally achieved our goal of ‘a Viet Nam Free of lymphatic filariasis’. We will continue to provide quality care for people affected with complications of this disease and ensure post-elimination surveillance, as guided by WHO,” said Madam Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, Minister of Health, Viet Nam.

Photo credit: RTI International/Nguyen Minh Duc

Elimination of the disease in Palau, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna comes after decades of work. Since the 1970s, Palau and Wallis and Futuna have used mass treatment programmes to reduce prevalence, with both joining the Pacific Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis in 1999. Continued surveillance helped detect infections, especially among migrant workers from other endemic countries.

“A century ago, half of Wallis and Futuna’s adult population was affected by elephantiasis, so the elimination of lymphatic filariasis is an enormous achievement and only possible because of collective efforts,” said Mr Etienne Morel, Director of Wallis and Futuna’s Health Agency. France provided financial support, local chiefs were instrumental in raising awareness about the condition, and WHO delivered critical technical assistance,” he added. “This great success once again shows that together we are stronger.”

In Viet Nam, references to the disease go back more than a century. The prevalence of infection gradually declined in many areas through environmental changes, improvements in housing, increased use of bed nets and selective treatment. Annual mass treatment campaigns between 2002 and 2008 stopped transmission in remaining endemic areas, and surveillance has continued. Last year, the country established a pioneering new training programme to ensure sustained care for people with complications from lymphatic filariasis.

“We appreciate all the support provided by WHO and other development partners, without which we would not have achieved this success. We will remain vigilant to stop lymphatic filariasis spreading if it is re-introduced. We would be happy to share our experience with other countries that are still fighting this terrible disease,” said Dr Emais Roberts, the Minister of Health of Palau.

In 1997, the World Health Assembly resolved to eliminate lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. In 2000, WHO launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis by 2020. The programme focuses on:

  • stopping the spread of infection through large-scale, annual treatment of all eligible people in affected areas; and
  • alleviating suffering by managing symptoms and preventing disability among people who are infected with lymphatic filariasis.

Since WHO launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis in 2000, a total of 11 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region have been validated as having eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem: Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Niue, the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Republic of Korea, Tonga, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna. Lymphatic filariasis remains endemic in 13 countries and areas in the Region: American Samoa, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Federated States of Micronesia, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa and Tuvalu.