– Health Minister urges all to take the pills and say ‘good riddance’ to the infection
By Vishani Ragobeer
THOUGH the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a strain on other previously effective mechanisms for distributing filaria pills this year, the house-to-house distribution of the final set of pills will be crucial to the success of this four-year-long Mass Drug Administration (MDA) campaign.
Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony highlighted that numerous personnel have been trained to execute the house-to-house distribution of the three sets of pills, beginning next month. This is due to the recognition that previous strategies for distributing the pills in public locations, such as markets, business centres and schools, may be constrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resultantly, it is the house-to-house distribution of pills which has been a feature of the MDA that will be crucial to its success this year.
“The team that is working on this particular project has spent a lot of time planning and rolling out that plan, so they have a rollout that would be in some of the coastal regions and we would go into the interior regions,” Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony explained on Monday as he responded to questions during his daily COVID-19 update with the Department of Public Information (DPI).
In addition to the house-to-house distribution, the health authorities have engaged community and religious leaders to help sensitise persons on why it is necessary to take the pills. In October, 2017, the local health authorities launched a reconceptualised, multi-year MDA, seeking to eradicate Lymphatic Filariasis (LF), commonly called filaria or “big foot,” in Guyana. Through this, efforts are made to have at least 70 per cent of the population consume the ‘filaria pills’- Diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC), Albendazole (ALB) and Ivermectin (IVM) – to sterilise and kill the worms that cause filaria.
Filaria is caused by bancrofti worms and is transmitted by culex mosquitoes. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it affects the body’s lymphatic system, which functions to remove unwanted fluids from the body and transports ‘lymph’- a fluid which contains white blood cells that help to fight infections. Though Guyana is one of few countries in the Americas to still have this disease, if this year’s MDA is successful, Guyana will be able to eliminate it.
In the revitalised 2017 MDA, the Education Ministry was recruited to join the campaign, since in a previously unsuccessful filaria campaign, children were the group that failed to meet the minimum percentage for coverage.
“While schools in the past (rounds of this MDA) have been one of the areas that we’ve targeted, because the students are out of school but they are at home, once we do the house-to-house work we’ll be able to reach them as well,” Dr. Anthony also explained.
The smaller number of older students who have been allowed to return to their schools for physical engagements, would be given the tablets there. Just as in previous rounds, it is expected that the students will take the tablets unless their parents have signed dissent forms preventing them from consuming the filaria medication.
Persons infected with LF may develop chronic conditions, resulting in swelling of the legs and scrotum. Locally, the swelling of tissues in the leg is called ‘big foot,’ while scrotal swelling is termed ‘goadie.’ There is no cure for filaria, which means that these chronic manifestations are irreversible. And it is for this reason that taking the tablets to prevent infection is imperative.
Minister Anthony stressed, “[Taking the pills] is for your health, it is going to protect you, it’s going to prevent you from getting filaria or what is known as ‘big foot,’ and I think that is an important thing that we can actually eliminate this disease from our country.”
A combination of the three pills will be given to individuals on the basis of their height. Pregnant women, seriously ill persons, children less than two years old and shorter than 90 cm of height will not be given the the pills.