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A man in Vietnam living with the long term effects of lymphatic filariasis walks alongside his grandchildren. Photo Credit: RTI International/Nguyen Minh Duc

Globally, more than 800 million people are estimated to be at risk for lymphatic filariasis (LF), a neglected tropical disease (NTD) that is considered to be one of the world’s most disabling and disfiguring infectious diseases. Late stages of the disease can lead to lymphedema, a painful condition that causes tissue swelling and impacts around 16 million people living with LF. 

Truong, from Vietnam, pictured here, is living with the long-term effects of lymphedema. However, Vietnam eliminated LF in 2018 and his grandchildren will never have to know the impacts of this devastating illness. 


A woman assists a child to take medicine during an NTD treatment campaign. Photo Credit: RTI International/ Muhammad Fadli

LF is a parasitic disease that is transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. The infection is usually acquired in childhood, but advanced physical symptoms, such as lymphedema, do not typically appear until adulthood. People living with this disease may experience greater difficulty attending school or working, impacting their economic future. In some communities where people don’t understand the diseases, people living with LF face social stigma. The strategy for interrupting the spread or “transmission” of lymphatic filariasis is annual treatment or “mass drug administration” (MDA) with a delivery of safe, highly-effective medicines. 

Pictured here a child receives a dose of medication during a mass drug administration for the elimination of LF in South Sumatra, Indonesia. 

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A group of community drug distributors participate in training for an upcoming health campaign. Photo Credit: USAID’s Act to End NTDs | West, HKI/Guinea

Mass drug administration campaigns rely heavily on community drug distributors (CDDs) who help deliver medicine and motivate people in their communities to take them. 

In Guinea, a group of CDDs gathers together for training to prepare them for upcoming drug distribution campaigns. In many places NTD treatment campaigns have continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make sure campaigns are as safe and effective as possible, CDDs wear masks, frequently wash hands, and follow social distancing guidelines.

Routine surveys help countries determine whether a specific geographic area has lowered infection of LF to a level where ongoing disease transmission is unlikely, and that information can help health officials determine if it is appropriate to stop MDA.


A health worker takes a sample from a child during an assessment. Photo Credit: RTI International

Here, students at a local school in south-eastern Benin are assessed for LF as a part of routine monitoring and evaluation. 

In 2016, the World Health Organization announced that Cambodia successfully eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem. Two other USAID-supported countries, Vietnam and Togo, have eliminated LF as well. USAID continues to work alongside 24 countries in their efforts to eliminate the disease and create a future free from LF. 

It is important to strengthen the capacity of countries to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases. Learn more about USAID’s work fighting LF, and other neglected tropical diseases here. 

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A health worker helps a child clean their hands. Photo Credit: USAID Cambodia

Authored by Curran McSwigan, STAR Health Communications and Public Affairs Fellow