National campaign to eliminate lymphatic filariasis

By Sapeer Mayron ,

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SPREADING THE MESSAGE: Dr. Rasul Baghirov with students from St. Joseph’s School at Le’auva’a.

SPREADING THE MESSAGE: Dr. Rasul Baghirov with students from St. Joseph’s School at Le’auva’a. (Photo: Supplied)

The national campaign to eliminate lymphatic filariasis in Samoa is finishing today and the Ministry of Heath will begin surveying for success soon after.

Lymphatic filariasis is a disease commonly known as elephantitis.

According to the Head of the Samoa branch of the World Health Organisation, Dr. Rasul Baghirov, Lymphatic filariasis is preventable and other Pacific islands have been successful in eliminating it.

A disease is considered eliminated when the prevalence of that disease in a population is less than 1%.

And that is what the Ministry of Health and W.H.O have been trying to achieve for the last two weeks in Samoa with a mass drug administration campaign.

Throughout Samoa, 1500 volunteers visited schools, village centers and workplaces to administer a triple drug treatment called I.D.A.

It is a combination of three medicines targeting Lymphatic filariasis, as well as any other bugs or worms in the body.

“Lymphatic filariasis cannot be prevented by a vaccine,” explained Dr. Baghirov.

“For diseases with no vaccine, the thing to do is to treat it, and what we do with Lymphatic filariasis is basically both.

“By making sure everyone in Samoa is treated, we remove the reservoir of the disease.”

Unlike other diseases like dengue fever, the mosquito does not transmit the disease but rather can carry it from an already sick person to another.

The disease is borne in the body: it lives in microfilaria which lie in the lymphatic system undetected, until it eventually manifests as elephantitis or other forms of body misconfiguration.

The W.H.O. describes this as “abnormal enlargement of body parts, causing pain, severe disability and social stigma.”

If that happens, it is no longer treatable and the patient will live with the symptoms, but before then the IDA drug can remove it from ones system.

“If every single person here is free of the disease inside, then irrespective of how many mosquitoes bite you, you cannot transmit or get the disease,” he said.

Dr. Baghirov said the drug works by killing the microfilaria in its adult or developing forms which circulate in the blood. 

“At the same time, while the filaria is killed, the other drug works to kill all the other parasites that are present in the body, like worms.”

Recent studies into Lymphatic filariasis showed that body weight affected the effectiveness of the treatment.

In Samoa’s national campaign, dosage was allocated to people based on their age and weight to ensure its success.

Some people may have had to take eight pills, while some might take up to 17.

The campaign tried to treat the entire population of Samoa, with the exception of children under two years old and pregnant or lactating people. 

Anyone suffering illness like cancer was also not treated with the IDA regime.

In order to measure the success of the campaign, anyone treated with IDA was marked on a finger with ink lasting up to six weeks.

This will enable the Ministry of Health, W.H.O and the National Health System to identify anyone who was not treated and understand why as well as get a picture of how much coverage the campaign had across Samoa. 

“I am super happy with the amazing job of the Ministry of Health,” said Dr Baghirov.

“They are extremely well organized. 

“Of course it is for the public to judge, but from what I understand it is working really well.”

Dr Baghirov said he was concerned there would be some reluctance from the public, particularly on Savaii towards taking the medicines but said he was pleased to see people eager and willing to accept treatment and avoid the disease.

The Australian High Commission and The Task Force for Global Health contributed financially to the campaign.

“That’s part of the success as well,” he said. “Money talks.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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