£10m ($16.6 million) funding boost to eliminate elephantiasis globally

December 02, 2009

The Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases (CNTD) at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine has been awarded £10 million by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to support endemic countries in tackling lymphatic filariasis (LF) - a crippling disease more commonly known as elephantiasis.

The funding builds on earlier successful collaborations against lymphatic filariasis and will support programmes to reduce the prevalence of LF and other related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and make progress towards eventual elimination of LF. The award is part of a £50 million grant announced by the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, to "wipe out deadly tropical diseases".

Elephantiasis is a parasitic infection that causes acute and chronic illness, disability and disfigurement in 81 countries in Asia-Pacific, Asia and the Americas. More than a billion people around the globe - 18% of the world's population - are at risk of contracting the disease. Forty million have clinical symptoms which are painful, seriously disfiguring and debilitating. LF prevents people from working and contributes to a vicious cycle of ill health and poverty.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that LF infection can be prevented by treating entire endemic communities once a year with two co-administered anti-parasitic drugs for a minimum of five years. The impact of the drugs on other NTDs also brings other health benefits such as improved physical development among children and improved maternal and newborn health. The DFID grant will enable CNTD to support 12 countries to administer these drugs to more than one quarter of a billion people at risk of LF in these countries over the next five years.

Professor Moses Bockarie, Director of CNTD, said: "We have a real opportunity here to relegate LF to the history books. Since the LF elimination programme started a decade ago it has prevented more than seven million newborns from acquiring the disease, which would have resulted in more than two million clinical cases."

The grant, alongside ongoing joint financial support from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), will also support the activities of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GAELF), a partnership of public and private sectors working towards LF elimination, and whose Secretariat is hosted at CNTD. GAELF is coordinating efforts with WHO and other disease control programmes and NTD partnerships.

"Tackling multiple infections as a group has allowed us to focus more on the rapid expansion of treatments to millions of people. Such an integrated, population-based approach also saves time, resources and reduces the burden to locally manage them," said Lorenzo Savioli, WHO Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases.

DFID support complements substantial financial inputs for NTDs from the Gates Foundation and USAID, drug donations by GSK and Merck, and technical input by WHO.

"The remarkable progress in fighting LF demonstrates what we can do in the field of NTDs," said Andrew Witty, Chief Executive Officer of GSK. "Working together, we have a real possibility to eliminate a devastating disease and alleviate human suffering."

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

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