Govt Tackles Elephantiasis

By Htet Naing Zaw 13 January 2017

NAYPYIDAW — The Burmese government will dispense anti-worm medicine to 30 million people nationwide as part of a large-scale elephantiasis eradication campaign.

The campaign is set to begin on Jan. 20 and will be carried out in 193 towns in 36 districts at an estimated cost of 193 million kyats (US$141,000).

Elephantiasis is not fatal but it causes social and economic suffering to victims and their families, Dr. Zaw Lin, of Naypyidaw’s public health department, told media during a meeting with other government departments about the campaign.

“The infected persons may get swollen arms or legs or breasts. The virus is present in our country so we need to take [anti-worm medication]. It is effective,” said Dr. Zaw Lin.

The government’s measures against elephantiasis began in 2001, but the campaign did not succeed because of both a lack of public cooperation in taking required medications, as well as a shortage of necessary supplies and assistance.

Health officials will administer the anti-worm medication door to door between Jan. 20 and 29. Public health department representatives said the Health and Sports Ministry aimed to rid the country of the disease by 2020.

“People have to take the medicine when health officials come to their doors from Jan. 20 to Jan. 29. If residents are not visited, they should go to the nearest rural health centers and take the medicine,” said Dr. Zaw Lin.

The medicine should not be administered to children under two years old, expectant mothers, patients who are chronically ill, and those who excessively drink and use drugs, warned the department.

The department still does not have figures about the number of patients infected with elephantiasis in the country, but has been conducting surveys in a number of areas.

The department said it has declared Sagaing Division’s Kale, Tamu, and Katha townships, Mandalay Division’s Pyin Oo Lwin Township, and Magwe Division’s Minbu Township as elephantiasis-free areas and therefore would not conduct anti-worm medication campaigns there.

“The prevalence of elephantiasis is highest in central Burma. We’ll carry out surveys in the Thandwe area once stability is restored in Arakan State. And we are making surveys in Kachin State. We’ll eliminate it by 2020,” said Dr. Zaw Lin.

“The budget for the campaign is mainly provided by the government. It provided 192.5 million kyats. And two donors contributed [anti-worm] medicines—GSK Co. and a Japanese company—through the World Health Organization,” he said.

The disease is caused by the filarial worm which is transmitted between humans via the female mosquito culex quinquefasciatus when it takes a blood meal. The parasite grows into an adult worm that lives in the lymphatic system of humans.

Over 60 countries have carried out medication campaigns against elephantiasis and 15 countries—including Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and the Maldives—are scheduled to eradicate the disease soon.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko