Lymphatic filariasis (LF), commonly known as elephantiasis. IMAGE/ COURTESY

The Ministry of Health has piloted ivermectin, diethylcarbamazine citrate and albendazole (IDA) treatment, a new triple drug therapy with the potential to reduce the time to treat and break transmission of lymphatic filariasis (LF), commonly known as elephantiasis, from at least five years down to two years.

Current treatment regimens for LF, a neglected tropical disease (NTD) – include mass drug administration of a dual therapy consisting of diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and albendazole (ALB).

The new IDA treatment adds the delivery of ivermectin (IVM) to form a triple therapy that studies have shown to deliver a shorter, more cost-effective program.

“This is a game-changing opportunity to accelerate progress towards the elimination of LF as a public health problem in Kenya, and help the East African nation join the fourteen countries that have already done so,” reads a statement from the Ministry.

Globally, 856 million people are at risk of LF – almost half of whom live in Africa – with 3.9 million of those in Kenya.

The Ministry of Health has selected three areas to rollout the pilot treatment and will use the 2018 results to inform scale up to the rest of the country in 2019.

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Five other African countries eligible for the new regimen include Sao Tome and Principe with 188,000 people at risk of LF, Comoros with 405,000 at risk, Madagascar with 19.6 million at risk, Eritrea with 17,000 at risk, Zambia with 11.3 million at risk and Zimbabwe with 7.8 million at risk.

Other countries considering IDA rollout in 2019 include India, with over 400 million people at risk of LF.

LF is one of the most common causes of long-term and permanent disability globally.

Its highly visible symptoms  including extreme swelling of limbs, breasts and external genitalia. Those with LF are often unable to perform daily tasks such as attending school or work, or taking care of their basic hygiene and health needs.

“The launch of the first IDA treatment program in Africa is a key step towards achieving Kenya’s five-year National Strategic Plan for the control of NTDs. It is a culmination of efforts led by the Kenyan Ministry of Health with several partners including the END Fund, Evidence Action, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, African Institute for Health & Development, the NTD Support Center at the Taskforce for Global Health, and Merck’s Mectizan Donation Program,” adds the statement.

LF is a mosquito-borne NTD and found mainly in coastal regions of Kenya along the Indian Ocean.

“This is going to have a lot of benefit to our people because we will shorten the period of elimination from five years to two years, and then there is additional benefits in terms of clearing things like scabies, which comes with the triple drug therapy approach,” said Dr Sultani Matendechero, Head of the National NTD Department at the Kenya Ministry of Health.

The exercise is expected to save up to $160 million (Ksh16 billion) in health treatments.

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