8 Oct 2019

'Success story': Kiribati eliminates elephantiasis

2:30 pm on 8 October 2019

Kiribati has eliminated lymphatic filariasis, otherwise known as elephantiasis, after a 19-year-long public health campaign.

Anopheles Freeborni Mosquito Pumping Blood.

Anopheles Freeborni Mosquito Pumping Blood. Photo: CDC / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The mosquito-borne disease affects the lymphatic system, and leads to the abnormal enlargement of body parts. It can cause chronic and severe disability, pain and social stigma.

Since 2000, Kiribati had set up robust surveillance, mass drug administration and a large-scale preventative treatment campaign.

Now, it has joined 11 other Pacific countries in eliminating the disease as a public health problem, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

Kiribati's Health Minister, Tauanei Marea, said the elimination was thanks to the hard work and collective efforts of dedicated health workers and the WHO.

Mr Marea said it was a great achievement and a "success story" for the health and well-being of I-Kiribati.

"We will look after the few remaining patients who unfortunately acquired the disease before we started our preventive treatment campaign, and we will never allow filariasis to regain a foothold in the country," he said.

WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai, presented Mr Marea with a plaque to honour the milestone at a regional meeting in Manila.

The Centre for Disease Control said lymphatic filariasis is a neglected tropical disease and a leading cause of permanent disability worldwide.

In 1997, the World Health Assembly resolved to eliminate lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.

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