MANILA, 30 March 2017 - The World Health Organization (WHO) today congratulated the Republic of the Marshall Islands on eliminating lymphatic filariasis — also known as elephantiasis — as a public health problem.
Lymphatic filariasis is a mosquito-borne disease that damages the lymphatic system, leading to severe disfigurement, pain and disability. For people affected by this disease, the impacts of disfigurement and the associated stigma are profound: people often lose their livelihoods, and suffer from psychological impacts such as depression and anxiety.
“Lymphatic filariasis is a terrible disease, causing untold suffering for those who are affected by it. I sincerely congratulate the Republic of the Marshall Islands for eliminating this disease as a public health threat – this is an enormously important achievement for the health of your people,” said Dr Shin Young-Soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands joins six other countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region that have been validated as having achieved elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem since WHO launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis in 2000: Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Niue, the Republic of Korea and Vanuatu.
Lymphatic filariasis is classified by WHO as a neglected tropical disease (NTD). NTDs are a diverse group of communicable diseases that thrive mainly among the poorest populations in tropical and subtropical areas. NTDs cause serious illness and in some cases death – but they are preventable. Through a series of public health strategies including preventive treatment of communities, intensive case management, vector control, controlling diseases in animals that can spread to humans through vaccination, and provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene, many NTDs can be controlled, and eventually, eliminated.
The fight against lymphatic filariasis in the 17 countries and areas where it remains endemic in the Western Pacific Region is an important priority for WHO’s work in this Region.
Following the initiation of the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis, many of these countries and areas are making progress towards elimination. WHO works directly with countries and partners to support large-scale mass drug administration campaigns, and better access to effective medicines and diagnostic tests. These efforts are paying off as more countries – like the Republic of the Marshall Islands – are approaching the elimination threshold for lymphatic filariasis.
“The Republic of the Marshall Islands has shown that with commitment and creativity, and despite significant geographic challenges in reaching people in many far-flung islands, it can be done. WHO is committed to supporting Member States to rid our Region of the scourge of lymphatic filariasis, so no one need suffer from this awful disease,” concluded Dr Shin.