Malawi to roll out elephantiasis prevention campaign in October

The Ministry of Health says it will begin the twelfth round of elephantiasis and river blindness (Onchocerciasis) drug distribution in October.

Elephantiasis is a painful and profoundly disfiguring disease which is usually acquired in childhood with its visible manifestations occurring in adulthood which may lead to either temporary or permanent disability.

Whereas river blindness is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm (filarial) transmitted to humans through the bite of a black fly (simulium species).

Chimbali: Campiagn roll out next month

These flies breed in fast-flowing streams and rivers, increasing the risk of blindness to individuals living nearby.

Ministry of Health’s Spokesperson, Henry Chimbali told the Malawi News Agency through a written response that a survey which the ministry conducted in 2003 established that villages in border districts of Mchinji, Nsanje and Karonga had a higher prevalence rate of elephantiasis with the highest recording of 18 percent.

“World Health Organisation recommendations say all implementation units with a prevalence of over one percent should be considered endemic and thus treated,” he said.

In Malawi, river blindness is common in the southern region of the country.

Blantyre District Coordinator for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Launcy Sajeni told Mana on Tuesday that the distribution of Ivermectin and Albendazole for river blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis) respectively is underway.

She said the district has 4,000 volunteers who carry out the distribution exercise and record the progress in hardcover registers.

“One is supposed to receive the medicine once a year for 15 years because it takes that long for the worms to die so people should ensure that they complete the whole medication,” Sajeni said.

She however disclosed that since the onset of the exercise which is done yearly, the programme has been faced with inadequate refresher courses for volunteers saying, “We need more resources to train volunteers before another phase of distribution so that we hear what challenges and successes there were in the previous exercise and possibly change wherever possible.”

Sajeni said Lymphatic Filariasis School of Liverpool has financially been supporting the exercise in the past three years but will not do so this year and that government will have to support this year’s exercise.

She lamented that it seems these diseases are neglected yet they disfigure people or make one blind if proper prevention measures are not taken in time.

Chimbali could however, not disclose how much government, through MOH is pumping into the campaign this year.

Mana established through random interviews that there is inconsistency in the distribution of the medicine since people who received the drugs last year, may not be the same to receive next year.

“I received the medicine in 2009 but I have been missing it in the past two years. Are they still giving out that medicine?” asked a Chirimba resident, only identified as Charity.

According to Sajeni, the volunteers have registers where they record each and every recipient’s name and they record against the names every year such that the office has all the data.

The public is advised not to take the medicine on an empty stomach since they might experience negative reactions such as vomiting.

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