China free of lymphatic filariasis

China is slated to be officially declared free of the debilitating disease lymphatic filariasis, 15 years ahead of the global elimination target of 2020.

China submitted today its application for verification of the elimination of the transmission of the disease to the World Health Organization at the meeting in Suva, Fiji, of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. China is the first country in the world to eliminate one of the most debilitating and disfiguring diseases, and the first ever to eliminate a parasitic disease.

Following China, the Republic of Korea is expected to be the second country to achieve elimination of the disease. Final compiling of data is underway, prior to the submission of an application by the Korean Government to WHO for verification of elimination.

"The success of China and soon that of the Republic of Korea are proof that elimination of lymphatic filariasis is possible if given the necessary levels of political support, adequate funding and public commitment," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, speaking in Fiji.

In the Pacific, communities are working towards the goal of elimination with 2010 as the target-10 years ahead of the global mark. If that target is achieved, the Pacific, covering 17 countries and areas, will be the first subregion in the world to eliminate lymphatic filariasis.

Other countries in the Western Pacific Region -- Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam -- have active programmes of mass drug administration that should enable them to reach the global elimination goal. However, the lack of adequate funding is one of major obstacles facing most countries engaged in filariasis elimination.

The disease, which causes severe and debilitating swelling, particularly of the limbs, is caused by filarial parasites. The parasites are transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. The adult parasites lodge in the lymphatic vessels where they cause inflammation, blocking the vessels. This blocks drainage of fluid from the limb, causing massive swelling which is usually progressive and permanent. However, both chronic disease and transmission can be prevented if infection is treated early.

About 1.1 billion people are at risk of infection, with an estimated 120 million people infected, the majority of which are in Asia and the Pacific.

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