Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Understanding the community impact of lymphatic filariasis: a review of the sociocultural literature

Shona Wynd, Wayne D Melrose, David N Durrheim, Jaime Carron, Margaret Gyapong

Lymphatic filariasis (LF) is endemic in approximately 80 tropical and subtropical countries. About 120 million people are infected with the parasite and a billion are estimated to be at risk of infection. The main focus of the LF elimination programme to date has been to interrupt transmission by means of annual community-wide treatment campaigns with diethylcarbamazine and albendazole, or albendazole and ivermectin, for a period of four to six years. Although substantial progress has been recorded wherever the strategy has been successfully implemented, initial gains have been accompanied by a realization that this strategy alone will not ensure a permanent solution in all settings. The fairly extensive LF literature is dominated by laboratory research and quantitative field measurement of the impact of LF, particularly local prevalence studies of parasite-infected humans and vectors. As the global elimination programme expands, the absence of sociocultural understanding is being recognized as a critical flaw in ensuring that programmes are appropriate and responsive to local needs and understanding. This paper assesses the current state of sociocultural understanding pertaining to LF. It concludes that, at present, there is insufficient understanding of the sociocultural factors associated with the presence and treatment of the disease, and that appropriate social science methods should be used to address this deficiency and ensure community partnership in delivering and sustaining the success of LF elimination programmes.