Eliminating lymphatic filariasis: Egypt begins the final chapter in stopping a dreaded disease

29 October 2004

Villagers awaiting mass drug administration
Villagers awaiting mass drug administration to combat lymphatic filariasis

This year, Egypt stands on the verge of eliminating lymphatic filariasis. A huge national elimination campaign has been under way for five years, supported by unique public-private partnerships developed with WHO within the framework of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. The recent completion of the fifth annual mass drug administration to 2.5 million people may be the final chapter in the story of Egypt’s efforts to eliminate this ancient and disfiguring disease.

About lymphatic filariasis

Lymphatic filariasis is a debilitating disease that has plagued Egypt since the time of the pharaohs – an autopsy on the 3000-year old mummified body of Natsef-Amun, a priest during the time of Ramses XI, revealed the presence of filarial worms.

Today, the disease is prevalent mainly in the Nile Delta region of the country. Transmitted by mosquitoes, the parasitic worms become lodged in a person's lymph nodes and over several years, can cause extreme swelling and enlargement – or elephantiasis – of the limbs, breast, and scrotum.

Although there is no cure for elephantiasis once it is established, simple measures are available to give people a better quality of life and to halt the transmission of the disease. WHO’s strategy for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis comprises two components – stopping transmission of the parasite via mass drug administration campaigns, and home-based care for those who already have the disease.

Photo story: Eliminating lymphatic filariasis in Egypt

Egypt is the first large endemic country in the world to reach the five-year mark in its national campaign. Now that the mass treatments are completed, a follow-up epidemiological assessment will reveal whether this large-scale, pioneering campaign has been successful in finally eliminating lymphatic filariasis.