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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – February 17, 2003: Lymphatic Filariasis - 2003-02-15

This the VOA Special English Development Report.

Researchers have discovered a successful new treatment to fight lymphatic filariasis around the world. This disease is commonly known as elephantiasis. It is the leading cause of permanent or long-term disabilities in developing countries.

More than one-hundred-twenty-million people in eighty countries have been infected with lymphatic filariasis. Most of the victims are in poor nations in Africa, Asia, South America and islands of the Pacific Ocean. A parasite organism causes the disease. Signs of the disease include huge enlargement of the legs, arms, breasts and reproductive organs.

Lymphatic filariasis is spread to humans through the bite of a mosquito insect infected with the parasite. Once infected, humans can pass the parasite back to mosquitoes when bitten again. Researchers began studying how the parasite is spread several years ago.

Jim Kazura of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio led the research. He said killing the adult female parasite would prevent the development of new parasites in either humans or mosquitoes. To test this theory, scientists created a special medicine to kill the female parasite. Scientists have tested the drug in the laboratory. But its effectiveness on humans has not been confirmed until now.

Doctor Kazura and his team of researchers tested the drug recently in Papua New Guinea. They gave the drug to two-thousand-five-hundred people living in unpopulated areas of the country. The people were injected with the drug every year for four years. Scientists found that the spread of lymphatic filariasis dropped by more than ninety-five percent. They also discovered that the treatment reduced the enlargement of the arms, legs and reproductive organs. Doctors had thought this was a permanent condition.

The study’s results were published in December in the New England Journal of Medicine. A separate opinion by an independent doctor was also included. It said Doctor Kazura’s research proves that a World Health Organization campaign to end lymphatic filariasis is possible. The WHO campaign was launched in nineteen-ninety-seven. Health officials hope to end the disease around the world by the year twenty-twenty.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.