July 1, 2022

Guyana launches mass drug administration campaign to intensify efforts to end Lymphatic Filariasis

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Georgetown, November 2019 (PAHO/WHO) – At-risk populations throughout Guyana will be treated for lymphatic filariasis (LF) over the next month in a bid to eliminate the disease as a public health problem.

The Ministry of Public Health, Guyana, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) launched the Mass Drug Administration (MDA) campaign on 31 October in Georgetown, Guyana. The one-month exercise will see health workers and volunteers visiting homes, workplaces and schools in eight regions throughout the country (1,2,3,4,5, 6,7 and 10) to administer the pills.

“Eliminating lymphatic filariasis is a national, regional and global priority,” said the Minister of Public Health of Guyana, Volda Lawrence. She highlighted 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.”

Lymphatic Filariasis is a debilitating disease that can cause swelling in the extremities and genitals 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.

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.
Preventing lymphatic filariasis

Lymphatic Filariasis is a mosquito-borne, parasitic disease. While it is not fatal, it affects the lymphatic system, leading to a variety of permanent, debilitating symptoms including severe swelling of the genitals (hydrocele) and lower extremities (elephantiasis, or “big foot” as it is commonly known in Guyana).

Over the next month, health workers will provide pills to prevent Lymphatic Filariasis in a variety of locations in all endemic areas. Directly Observed Therapy will be utilized; this means that persons who are given the pills must take them in front of the health workers. 

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 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.

Guyana’s Ministry of Public Health is urging everyone in the eight targeted regions to protect themselves from filaria by taking the pills during the campaign, and by also encouraging their families and communities to do the same. Pregnant women, those who are ill and children under the age of 2 are not eligible for the drug administration. Health workers participating in the campaign will be recognizable by their purple t-shirts and will all carry official identification. 

Elimination Initiative

On 1 October, 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.
PAHO Elimination Initiative

Dancing shoes and the road to lymphatic filariasis elimination in Guyana

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of its population. Founded in 1902, it is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It serves as the Regional Office of WHO for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.

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