Lymphatic filariasis facts

  • Lymphatic filariasis (LF)can result cause swelling of body parts and can alter the immune system
  • It is the second major cause of long-term disability in the world after mental health
  • Over 120 million people are already infected, with about 40 million incapacitated by the disease
  • 1.10 billion people in 55 countries worldwide remain threatened by lymphatic filariasis and require preventative chemotherapy
  • Self-care developed and taught by us, stops fevers and reduces swelling so that people can get back to their normal lives

What is lymphatic filariasis?

Lymphatic filariasis (LF), sometimes known as elephantiasis, is a parasitic disease caused by microscopic thread-like worms which are transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.

The parasites lodge in the lymphatic system producing millions of immature larvae that circulate in the blood and cause swelling in the arms, legs and/or genitalia.

The effects of LF

LF can leave to severe deformities, debilitating fevers and damage to the lymphatic system. Some of the common effects are:

  • Elephantiasis - Extreme swelling in the arms and legs and thickening of skin
  • Lymphedema - Retention of fluid and tissue swelling
  • Hydrocele - Retention of fluid and swelling of the testes

How is LF cured?

Sadly, there is no cure for LF. However, the disease can be managed through self-care techniques in order to reduce swelling and pain. A huge part of our work is to travel to remote communities to teach self-care techniques to help people manage their disease effectively. We also work on ways to prevent the disease spreading further by cleaning ponds to reduce the amount of mosquitos.

For many people affected by LF, walking becomes incredibly difficult and painful, where their feet become swollen, damaged and vulnerable to injury. If injury occurs and the affected limb becomes infected, a person can be confined to their bed for up to 15 days, losing the ability to work and pushing them further into poverty. We provide custom-made protective footwear to ensure people can walk pain and injury free. Last year we distributed 14,780 pairs of these custom-made shoes.

Stigma surrounding LF

Due to the stigma attached to the deformities caused by LF, many people affected are often shunned and abandoned by their loved ones when they need help the most. They often lose their ability to work due to the effects of LF and as a result are pushed further into poverty.

LF today

Lymphatic filariasis is the second biggest cause of long-term disability in the world. In the countries we work in there are millions of people already affected by LF and even more at risk of contracting the disease:

  • India accounts for 30% of the world’s lymphatic filariasis burden
  • In Bangladesh there are currently around 1 million people affected by LF and 70 million at risk of contracting it
  • In Mozambique there are 2 million people currently affected by LF and 16 million people at risk of contracting the disease.

The physical, social and economic damage caused by LF is immense. To combat this we:

  • Use innovative ways to spread health education messages to inform people about LF and treatment
  • Combine our work in both LF and leprosy to provide services to more people, improve existing healthcare systems, achieve economies of scale and ensure that vital skills are not lost
  • Have developed and teach self-care techniques to people already affected enabling them to reduce fevers and swelling
  • Help people to get back to work by providing custom-made shoes and help people form self-help groups to improve their livelihoods

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Global Programme to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis, this was based on two components:

  • Stopping the spread of infection through large-scale annual treatment of all eligible people in an area or region where infection is present; and
  • Alleviating the suffering caused by lymphatic filariasis through increased morbidity management and disability prevention activities.

In 2012, the WHO neglected tropical diseases roadmap confirmed the target date for achieving elimination by 2020.

Lives affected by LF

Mussa was affected by lymphatic filariasis, and displays symptoms of hydrocele as a result. We are working with Mussa and others affected by LF in Mozambique, to get the relief they need through hydrocelectomies.

Read more about Mussa’s story.

Samida affected by LFSamida’s endured fevers and weeping ulcers for eight years before she heard about one of our referral centres. She has now regained her independence and thanks to our custom-made shoes, can even walk up to five kilometres at a time.

Read more about Samida’s story.

How you can help?

There are a number of ways you can help by raising money for us so we can reach more people affected by disease: challenge yourself and sign up to an event; choose a fundraising activity and get all your friends and family involved; Or you can donate directly to us, as little as £5 per month could help us to train 12 village doctors in a year to recognise the symptoms of LF.

Donate now