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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – 80 Million Treated Against Elephantiasis - 2004-04-18

Broadcast: April 19, 2004

This is Robert Cohen with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Four years ago, the World Health Organization and other groups began a campaign to end lymphatic filariasis. This disease is a leading cause of disability in developing countries. Left untreated, fluid collects in tissue. Lymphatic filariasis can cause severe enlargement of the legs, arms and areas around the sexual organs. The disease is commonly known as elephantiasis.

The cause is a parasite. It is spread to humans through the bite of mosquitoes that carry the organism. Early signs of the disease in children include learning problems and reduced growth. Once infected, humans can pass the parasite back to other mosquitoes that bite them.

About one-hundred-twenty-million people in eighty countries are infected with lymphatic filariasis. Most of these people are in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and islands of the Pacific Ocean. The countries have a total population of more than one-thousand-million people.

The Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis has released a progress report on the treatment campaign. The group says eighty-million people have begun treatment against the disease. Two drug companies, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck, are providing medicines for free.

Individuals take two drugs once a year. This combined treatment stops the spread of elephantiasis. But it will not undo any damage already caused by the disease.

The first drug is albendazol, made by GlaxoSmithKline. This drug also kills several other kinds of parasites that can infect the intestines. These include roundworm, whipworm and hookworm.

A second drug commonly given against lymphatic filariasis is called ivermectin. The Merck company manufactures it. This drug is also used to fight river blindness.

The parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis grows slowly. It is not expected to develop a resistance to the drug treatment. In addition, treatment costs are low – between ten cents and two dollars per person per year. Health officials want to put people on five-year treatment plans. The goal of the campaign is to end the disease worldwide within twenty years.

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