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Vietnam eliminates lymphatic filariasis, a disfiguring disease

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC— The Government of Vietnam has eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem, according to a recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) also recognizing elimination in Palau and Wallis and Futuna. With this announcement, Vietnam joins a small number of countries in achieving validation of lymphatic filariasis (LF) elimination. This elimination means that future generations will no longer suffer the disabling impacts of this disfiguring disease and demonstrates undeniable progress in the global fight against neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) for the remaining lymphatic filariasis-endemic countries.

See photos from our work to eliminate lymphatic filariasis in Vietnam.

Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, causes fluid buildup in the lymph system that can lead to severe disfigurement, as well as social and economic discrimination against those affected. The disease is caused when filarial parasites, transmitted to humans through mosquitoes, damage the body's lymphatic system.  This damage to the lymph system, in conjunction with painful and debilitating inflammatory attacks often caused by bacterial or fungal infections, causes swelling of arms, legs and other body parts.

The associated disfiguration often causes stigma that impacts an individual’s ability to lead a productive economic and social life by restricting the ability to earn a living, leading to social and physical isolation and reducing other life chances, such as marriage.

“We are proud to have worked with Vietnam to end this disease and to continue to prove to the world that it can be done,” said Wayne Holden, Ph.D., president and CEO, RTI International.

“Vietnam has been working in various ways to eliminate lymphatic filariasis for more than half a century.  The government’s commitment to ending this disease has paid off and we are proud to have been a part of this incredible effort.” said Lisa Rotondo, ENVISION Project Director at RTI.

Starting in 2011, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through its partners FHI 360 and RTI International, has worked with the Vietnam government's National Institute of Malaria, Parasitology and Entomology (NIMPE) to facilitate efforts towards LF elimination. In 2015, ENVISION, the USAID flagship NTD project led by RTI International, began working with the NIMPE to assist with dossier development, the official documentation required for achieving validation from the WHO, as well as confirming non-endemicity of three districts.  

A team of partners supported the government of Vietnam, not only to eliminate LF but to provide care for those who will continue to suffer the consequences of this disfiguring disease.

NIMPE pilot tested the WHO Direct Inspection Protocol to assess the quality of lymphedema services at health facilities. Partners collaborating in this effort included Helen Keller International and RTI, with funding from USAID's MMDP Project, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO.

USAID, through CDC and the Task Force for Global Health, also supported operational research on LF antibody results.

Vietnam is also making progress toward the elimination of another NTD, trachoma. USAID, through the previous FHI 360 END in Asia Project (2011-2016) and its current ENVISION partners RTI International, and The Fred Hollows Foundation--is supporting the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO) to achieve this goal. These organizations have provided technical and financial assistance to develop survey protocols, train eye-health staff on survey methodologies, and implement surveys.

The ENVISION Project has assisted the VNIO in data collection, dossier development, and staff training. Further, ENVISION will also support trachoma mapping in three districts, mass drug administration (MDA) in two districts, and trachoma impact and surveillance surveys following MDA to help Vietnam reach the trachoma elimination goal.

For more than 12 years, RTI International has provided technical assistance to national NTD programs working towards global targets for NTD control and elimination. Through ENVISION, USAID’s flagship NTD project, RTI International supports countries in all phases of NTD program implementation — from mapping disease distribution to achieving the goal of international recognition of the control or elimination of these terrible diseases. From 2012-2017, ENVISION facilitated the global distribution of more than 417 million treatments for lymphatic filariasis.

RTI International is proud to have recently been chosen to lead USAID’s five-year Control & Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases – Element Two (CEP-NTD) Project.

Through USAID’s ENVISION Project, RTI International is supporting the global campaigns to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases. To learn more about RTI’s work fighting neglected tropical diseases, visit http://ntdenvision.org and follow us on Twitter at @RTIfightsNTDs.

The ENVISION project is implemented by RTI International and funded by USAID under cooperative agreement No. AID-OAA-A-11-00048.