Vanuatu, Cook Islands Declared Elephantiasis Free

Ten-year effort eliminates disfiguring disease

By Jonas Cullwick

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Oct. 14, 2016) – After over a decade of efforts, Vanuatu along with Cambodia and Cook Islands are declared to have eliminated lymphatic filariasis—also known as elephantiasis—as a public health problem.

Dr Margaret Chan, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General and Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Region, congratulated health ministers from the four countries for this historical achievement during the opening of the 67th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines this week.

“By eliminating this disabling scourge and ensuring that there will be no more new cases in the next generation, these countries have also banished a significant cause of poverty,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

“This achievement is the culmination of more than a decade of accelerated efforts of governments, development partners, and donors, supported by WHO. I thank this Region for leading the world in the battle against lymphatic filariasis, and many other threats to health, both new and old,” said Dr Chan.

Lymphatic filariasis, commonly known in Bislama as ‘sik big leg’, is a mosquito-borne disease affecting populations in tropical countries. The disease is caused when filarial worms, transmitted to humans through mosquito bites, damage the body’s lymphatic system, leading to severe disfigurement, pain, disability and recurrent acute

In 1997, WHO developed a global strategy with member countries over the six regions of the world to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. Vanuatu was among the countries of the Western Pacific Countries which committed to the ambitious plan and in the year 2000, the Ministry of Health launched its first ever Mass Drug Administration (MDA) as the main strategy to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. The MDA took five years (2000 – 2004) to complete and the target was to ensure that 100% of the population are treated once a year with a single doze of Diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and Albendazole, two drugs which are commonly used to treat parasitic diseases.

“It is a great honour for me as the Minister for Health of Vanuatu to receive the award and more importantly the certification by WHO that Lympatic Filariasis is eliminated from Vanuatu.

“This is public health history therefore the government and the people of Vanuatu must be proud of this very significant achievement,” Minister of Health, Toara Daniel said.

“I wish to convey my sincere appreciation to health partners, NGOs, WHO and UN agencies, Ministry of Health staffs and all the people of Vanuatu who have contributed to this remarkable achievement and I salute them for making Vanuatu a Lymphatic Filariasis free environment for people today and future generations,” he added.

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