Over 500 million people in 20 states will be treated over the next two years to eliminate lymphatic filariasis or elephantitis, the Health Ministry announced on Thursday.
The budget for the national programme is kept at Rs 100 crore, to be used over two years, to prevent people from developing the severely disfiguring disease where a person develops a swollen leg that grows big enough to resemble an elephant’s leg. The disease affects 120 million people globally; over 40 million of them are incapacitated or disfigured by it. One-third of the infected people live in India.
“Beginning today (Thursday), over 130 crore tablets will be distributed in 243 districts in 20 affected states. Like the Pulse Polio Programme, lymphatic filariasis will be tackled on a mission mode, with health workers and volunteers going door-to-door to distribute free medicines,” said Pravir Krishna, joint secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Apart from swelling and enlargement of the limb, trunk or head — called lymphoedema — the disease may cause the skin to acquire a thickened and uneven appearance. The disease may also affect the sexual organs. “The goal of the programme is to eliminate microfilariae from the blood of all infected individuals, so that transmission of the infection by the mosquito can be stopped,” adds Krishna.
According to the World Health Organisation, a single dose of diethylcarbamazine citrate is 99 per cent effective in removing parasite from the blood for an entire year after treatment. As in the case of polio eradication, medicating everyone living in an affected area can stop transmission in the community. The global target for elimination is 2015. “The programme was launched in 12 states and the remaining eight will be covered within a month,” says Krishna. The states and Union Territories covered include Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Daman and Diu, and Dadar and Nagar Haveli.