Malawi becomes the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis)

LILONGWE, Malawi, Oct. 28, 2020 /PRNewswire/ --

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) announced in this week's WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record that Malawi has been validated to have eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.

MSD (trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA), GSK, and the Mectizan Donation Program congratulate President Lazarus Chakwera, the government, and the people of Malawi for this remarkable achievement that has alleviated suffering for millions and highlights the perseverance of many dedicated partners. Malawi is only the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to mark this achievement.

Lymphatic filariasis (LF), commonly known as elephantiasis, is a debilitating disease caused by a parasite transmitted to humans through the bites of mosquitoes. According to WHO, elephantiasis is found in 73 countries around the world with an estimated 120 million people infected. Long-term, chronic infection causes damage to the lymphatic system, and severe and irreversible swelling to the limbs, breasts, and/or genitals. These symptoms cause extreme discomfort, disability, and social stigmatization.

A WHO resolution to achieve the goal of global LF elimination was passed by the World Health Assembly in 1997. In countries where LF and another parasitic disease called river blindness are co-endemic, WHO recommends co-administering two medicines, albendazole and ivermectin to achieve LF elimination. In 1998, GSK announced the donation of albendazole for the elimination of LF and MSD expanded its donation of Mectizan® (ivermectin) through the Mectizan Donation Program to include the elimination of LF in countries where the disease co-exists with river blindness. In 2017, in support of new WHO guidelines, MSD's donation of Mectizan was once again expanded to provide up to 100 million additional treatments per year through 2025 to support the elimination of LF globally in countries where onchocerciasis is not endemic.

Since 1999 GSK has donated 9 billion doses of albendazole through the WHO to support efforts to end LF in 65 endemic countries. MSD has donated over 3.76 billion doses to control and eliminate river blindness and LF.

"We celebrate this important achievement with the government and the people of Malawi," said Ms. Carmen Villar, Vice President for Social Business Innovation at MSD. "Lymphatic filariasis is a debilitating, but preventable disease. We are proud to be part of a global partnership focused on its elimination and improving the lives of tens of millions of people."

Fiona Smith-Laittan, VP of Global Health at GSK, said: "We congratulate the government of Malawi for this significant achievement in ending suffering caused by LF. GSK is committed to improving global health, and we have partnered with WHO, MSD, governments, and partners for over two decades in the Global Program to Eliminate LF. We continue to be inspired by the dedication of the Ministries of Health, frontline health workers, and communities fighting this debilitating disease."

The Mectizan Donation Program's director, Dr. Yao Sodahlon, an expert in tropical diseases who played a critical role in the elimination of LF from Togo stated "I am thrilled to see another country in Africa be validated by WHO for eliminating LF. I congratulate Malawi for this remarkable achievement and commend the Ministry of Health for its steadfast commitment since the LF elimination program began in 2008. The effort to achieve consistently high coverage with Mectizan and albendazole paid off as Malawi becomes the second country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate LF."

About GSK
GSK is a science-led global healthcare company with a special purpose: to help people do more, feel better, live longer. We have 3 global businesses that discover, develop and manufacture innovative pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines and consumer healthcare products.

Our work in global health is science-led, sustainable for our business and focused for impact. Each year over 5 million children die under the age of five, most from preventable diseases and in developing countries. We want to help change that by focusing our science on three of the world's biggest health challenges - HIV, TB and malaria.

     Mark Bradley                                      
     Simon Moore


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About the Mectizan Donation Program
The Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) was established in 1987, in partnership with the Task Force for Global Health, to provide medical, technical and administrative oversight of the donation of Mectizan by MSD for the treatment of river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis. In 1998, MDP expanded its mandate to include oversight of the donation of albendazole by GSK for the elimination of lymphatic filariasis in onchocerciasis co-endemic areas.

     Joni Lawrence                                  
     Yao Sodahlon

     Mectizan Donation Program                      
     Mectizan Donation Program


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About MSD
For more than 125 years, MSD has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world's most challenging diseases in pursuit of our mission to save and improve lives. MSD is a trade name of Merck & Co., Inc., with headquarters in Kenilworth, N.J., U.S.A. We demonstrate our commitment to patients and population health by increasing access to health care through far-reaching policies, programs and partnerships. Today, MSD continues to be at the forefront of research to prevent and treat diseases that threaten people and animals -- including cancer, infectious diseases such as HIV and Ebola, and emerging animal diseases -- as we aspire to be the premier research-intensive biopharmaceutical company in the world. For more information, visit and connect with us on Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

     Pam Eisele                                        
     Carol Richardson


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SOURCE The Task Force for Global Health; Mectizan Donation Program