Ten million Zambians are at risk of contracting elephantiasis, Health Minister Dr Joseph Kasonde has said.
Dr Kasonde said the mapping that was done by his ministry revealed that the parasites that cause elephantiasis were present in 85 districts. He said Kalabo in western province had the highest percentage of the parasite.
In a ministerial statement on elephantiasis delivered in Parliament yesterday, Dr Kasonde said the ministry started mass administration of drugs to eradicate and prevent spread of the disease after the mapping was done.
The minister said some districts have passed the target for the people to be treated while other districts are still undergoing the ‘immunisation’ process. He said Government and cooperating partners started the mass administration of the drugs on 8 June 2015 and will run upto 2 July 2015.
He said the Government has started controlling and eliminating the parasite that causes elephantiasis and that the government is in line to meet the 2020 target of eliminating elephantiasis.
10 per cent of Kitwe’s population has the elephantiasis parasite, according to district health officer Dr Chikafuna Banda. Dr Banda said having 10 per cent of the district’s population with elephantiasis was too big a number to be ignored as the disease was dangerous.
Elephantiasis is a parasitic infection that causes extreme swelling in the arms,legs or groin. It is typically characterized by a thickening of the skin and subcutaneous tissue that leads to enlarged and swollen limbs. The condition is medically called lymphatic filariasis. It is caused by a worm that disturbs the flow of fluids in the legs and private parts leaving victims with swollen body parts.
While the infection is usually acquired in childhood, its visible manifestations occur later in life, causing temporary or permanent disability. In endemic countries, lymphatic filariasis has a major social and economic impact
The worm is transmitted by the female mosquito which also transmits the malaria parasite.When a mosquito bites a person who has lymphatic filariasis, microscopic worms circulating in the person’s blood enter and infect the mosquito. If the infected mosquito bites another person, they can then get lymphatic filariasis. The microscopic worms pass from the mosquito through the skin, and travel to the lymph vessels. In the lymph vessels they grow into adults. An adult worm lives for about 7 years. The adult worms mate and release millions of microscopic worms into the blood. Once a person has the worms in their blood, when a mosquito bites, the mosquito can transmit the disease to yet another person.
A person needs many mosquito bites over several months to years to get lymphatic filariasis. People living or staying for a long time in tropical or sub-tropical areas where the disease is common are at the greatest risk for infection. Short-term tourists have a very low risk. An infection will show up on a blood test.
Response to the on-going drug administration exercise against elephantiasis in Ndola has been overwhelming, a survey has revealed.At three public health institutions, more than 50,000 people had accessed preventive medication against the disease.
The eradication program involves treating the disease it is not a vaccine or preventative in any way.The drugs used are Albendazole and Ivermectin.These drugs will kill any worm infestations.Transmission of the infection can be broken when a single dose of these combined oral medicines is consistently maintained annually for a duration of four to six years.
The strategy for eliminating transmission of lymphatic filariasis is mass distribution of medicines that kill the microfilariae and stop transmission of the parasite by mosquitoes in endemic communities. With consistent treatment, and since the disease needs a human host, the reduction of microfilariae means the disease will not be transmitted, the adult worms will die out, and the cycle will be broken.