Globally, 120 million people are affected with lymphatic filariasis across 71 countries, of which 50% are residing in the WHO South-East Asian Region (SEAR).
In May 2016, Sri Lanka and Maldives became the first countries in the WHO South-East Asia Region to be officially declared ‘filariasis free’.
Sri Lanka has a long history with Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), the earliest known cases can be traced back to the 4th century B.C.
“The elimination of the disease in Sri Lanka and Maldives marks a significant achievement in combating neglected tropical diseases in the WHO South-East Asia Region,” the organization had said in a statement.
Commonly known as elephantiasis, LF occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquito bites. Infection is usually acquired in childhood causing hidden damage to the lymphatic system.
The Anti Filariasis Campaign (AFC) was established in 1947. Sri Lanka intensified mosquito control efforts; treatment of the infected population, disability prevention and control; and strengthened surveillance in order to stop the spread of infection and alleviate the suffering caused by LF.
Due to the sustained efforts of the Anti Filariasis Campaign, supported by WHO and international partners, the MF rate was reduced to 0.03% by 2008, allowing the country to work towards elimination status.
Strong political commitment, dedication of the health workforce and active community participation were some of the key components which led to the elimination of this disease as a public health problem, according to Dr Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Health.