New Delhi: India’s close neighbours, Maldives and Sri Lanka have eliminated Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), a disease commonly known as elephantiasis that has been crippling people for decades, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) South-East Asia Region office said in a statement on Friday.
However, India is still far from achieving the target of total elimination, with around six million people still suffering from the disease, spread through mosquito bites.
“The achievement by Maldives and Sri Lanka demonstrates the resolve of these countries and the region as a whole to eliminate all neglected tropical diseases,” Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said.
Commonly known as elephantiasis, LF occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquito bites.
The infection is usually acquired in childhood which often causes permanent disability later in life.
In India, the disease was endemic in 15 States and five Union Territories with approximately 600 million population at risk, according to India’s Health Ministry data.
Indigenous LF cases were reported from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep.
From these States/UTs, a total of 250 districts have been identified by the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme to be endemic for filariasis.
The WHO has targeted LF elimination by 2020.
“The success in Maldives and Sri Lanka follows intensified mosquito control efforts; treatment of the infected population, disability prevention and control; strengthening of surveillance and closely monitoring and evaluating these efforts,” the WHO said.
“LF is believed to have been endemic in Maldives since the 12th century AD and is traced back to much earlier in Sri Lanka, with mosquitoes transmitting the bug found in abundance across the two countries,” it said.