Freeing the World of LF: A Call to Action
More than 1 billion people are threatened by lymphatic filariasis (LF), a devastating parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes. LF – caused by thread-like parasitic worms that damage the human lymphatic system – is usually contracted in childhood, often before age five. One of the world’s most disabling and disfiguring diseases, LF afflicts the poorest of the poor. The disease currently infects over 120 million people, leaving 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 the afflicted from experiencing a normal working and social life, furthering the cycle of poverty.
The Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis was established in 1998 under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO), following a 1997 landmark resolution by the 50th World Health Assembly to eliminate LF as a public health problem by 2020. In 1998, SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) and Merck & Co., Inc. each announced their commitment to donate drugs – albendazole and Mectizan® (ivermectin) – for as long as necessary to eliminate LF as a public health problem, and they were joined by many other partners around the world.
The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis, launched in 2000, is a broad partnership that unites national Ministries of Health and more than 40 diverse public and private partners including WHO, companies within the private sector, international development agencies and foundations, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, and local communities, all committed to a world free of LF. The Arab Fund for Social & Economic Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Department for International Development (UK) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency contributed critical seed money that helped accelerate LF elimination efforts dramatically.
Four years after the formation of the Global Alliance, remarkable progress has been made to mobilise political, financial and technical expertise to rid the world of LF. The third meeting of the Global Alliance to Eliminate LF (GAELF), held March 23-25, 2004, in Cairo, Egypt, brought together approximately 200 people from 33 countries to discuss progress and challenges associated with eliminating LF at the country, regional and global levels.