By Ann Varghese

Senior, Program Officer 

Lymphatic filariasis (LF) is a highly disabling disease that is endemic in 83 countries with over 1.3 billion people at risk of contracting it. The disease is a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes. Caused by thread-like parasitic worms that damage the human lymphatic system – it is usually contracted in childhood, often before the age of five. One of the world’s most disabling and disfiguring diseases, LF afflicts the poorest. The disease is estimated to infect over 120 million people, with more than 40 million incapacitated or disfigured with swelling of the limbs and breasts (lymphoedema) and genitals (hydrocele), or swollen limbs with dramatically thickened, hard, rough and fissured skin (elephantiasis). LF prevents afflicted individuals from experiencing a normal working and social life, furthering the cycle of poverty.

The fourth annual International Lymphedema Framework Conference was recently held in Montpellier, France in collaboration with the Lymphatic Filariasis Disability Prevention workshop for Program Managers. The objective of the workshop was to provide participants with knowledge management, lesson-learning, capacity building, experience sharing about lymphedema management and disabling diseases with a focus on lymphedema and wound management. Program Managers from Africa, India, and Madagascar gathered to share experiences from their programs. Hosted in part by Handicap International, IMA facilitated participation from partners within the Tanzania Ministry of Health, India Ministry of Health and CASA, our NGO partner in India. IMA currently has programs in Haiti, Tanzania and India that address LF either through mass drug administration or home based care of LF patients.

The global strategy for elimination of LF is based on two key components:

  • interrupting transmission through annual large-scale treatment programmes, known as mass drug administration, implemented to cover the entire at-risk population;
  • alleviating the suffering caused by lymphatic filariasis through morbidity management and disability prevention.