After over a decade of persistent efforts, Togo has eliminated lymphatic filariasis—also known as elephantiasis—as a public health problem. The announcement follows a formal validation by the World Health Organization (WHO) which congratulated the Togolese government for this historic achievement.
“This is a truly remarkable public health achievement that demonstrates the translation of collective commitment into real action by the Togolese government, partners and communities. By eliminating this debilitating disease, the country has banished a significant cause of poverty into the archives of history,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
Togo joins five countries in the Western Pacific Region (Cambodia, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Niue and Vanuatu) and two countries in the Southeast Asia Region (Maldives and Sri Lanka) recently acknowledged for eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. Currently 33 other endemic countries in the African region still require efforts to achieve the same status.
Commending the country on this success, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan said: “This achievement is the culmination of more than a decade of accelerated efforts of governments, development partners, and donors, supported by WHO. I thank Togo for leading the fight against lymphatic filariasis, and many other threats to health.”
Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa, the Minister of Health and Social Protection of Togo, expressed gratitude to WHO, medicine donation programmes, development partners and everyone whose hard work has made this achievement possible. He reaffirmed the government’s commitment to improving health care for everyone.
He said: “Even with elimination, the job is not over in Togo. We will continue to strengthen our efforts to detect and prevent any future return of the disease and to provide care for people experiencing ongoing health problems as a result of earlier infection. I urge the public to take every preventive action including the use of long lasting insecticide treated nets (LLIN) to protect them against malaria and lymphatic filariasis”.
Lymphatic filariasis is caused by a parasitic infection affecting people living in tropical countries. Filarial worms are transmitted to humans through mosquito bites and damage the body’s lymphatic vessels leading to severe disfigurement, pain and disability. People affected by the disease are not only physically disabled, but suffer mental, social and financial losses contributing to stigma and poverty
In 2000, WHO launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis to stop the spread of infection through annual rounds of mass medicine administration targeting the the entire population at risk, and by integrating the care of affected people into existing health systems to prevent further deaths and disability.
Last year the WHO redoubled its commitment to the elimination of lymphatic filariasis in the African region by establishing the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ESPEN) under the leadership of WHO AFRO. ESPEN provides national NTD programmes with technical and operational support to help them eliminate lymphatic filariasis and four other so called Neglected Tropical Diseases which collectively affect hundreds of millions of people.
“WHO AFRO and ESPEN are committed to supporting Member States to rid the Africa Region of diseases of poverty such as lymphatic filariasis. We will strengthen technical support, advocacy for increased funding and stronger political commitment to rid the Region from the scourge of NTDs,” Dr Moeti added.