Ghana: GHS to Start Mass Drug Administration for Elephantiasis and Onchocerciasis

press release

The Ghana Health Service (GHS), will from Monday, July 29, 2019, start a Mass Drug Administration (MDA) aimed at eradicating Lymphatic Filariasis (Elephantiasis) and Onchocerciasis (River Blindness).

The MDA will cover endemic districts in all regions except the Greater Accra region with the help of trained community volunteers know as Community-based Drug Distributors (CDDs).

The Programme Manager of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) of the GHS, Dr. Benjamin Marfo, announced this at a press briefing in Accra.

Dr. Marfo said two drugs, Ivermectin and Albendazole, would be administered for the prevention and treatment of river blindness, while the Ivermectin would be administered for the prevention and treatment of elephantiasis, adding that the dosage would be determined by person's height.

He explained that the height criteria was to prevent administering the drug to children, however, adults below 90 cm were advised to go to the nearest hospital or clinic to have their weight checked if their weight was 50 kg and above they are eligible for the MDA. For people who are paralysed a measurement of the width of their stretched hand would be taken to determine their eligibility.

Dr. Marfo mentioned that under-heights, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and seriously sick people were not eligible for the MDA. He cautioned that alcohol is a contra-indication to the drugs, therefore, people who take the drugs should avoid taking alcohol for 24 hours.

The MDA is one of three strategies being employed to eradicate Elephantiasis and River Blindness with the others been Morbidity Control and Management and Health Education.

Dr. Marfo said Elephantiasis and River Blindness were part of a group 20 NTDs which affects over a billion people worldwide especially, those who live in extreme poverty.

"In Ghana, only 14 out of the 20 NTDs exist with Elephantiasis, River Blindness, Schistosomiasis, Soil-Transmitted Helminthes and Tranchoma being endemic and require MDA," he added.

Touching on Elephantiasis, Dr. Marfo mentioned that 98 districts in all regions except Volta region and the Ashanti had cases of Elephantiasis with transmission been broken in 83 districts with 15 hotspots been identified.

He added that elephantiasis is caused by a parasitic worm known as Wuchereria bancrofti which was transmitted by the mosquito vector -- female anopheles.

Dr. Marfo outlined some of the signs of elephantiasis as acute attacks, which include secondary infection which was common with an impaired lymphatic system, high fever, pain, swelling, nausea, vomiting and further damaging to lymphatic vessels, and chronic manifestation such as the swelling of parts of the body like the scrotum, legs, hands and breasts.

On river blindness, which would be eliminated by 2025, he indicated that it was endemic in 120 districts in all the regions in Ghana except the Greater region.

Dr. Benjamin Marfo disclosed that river blindness was caused by a parasitic worm called Onchocerca volvulus transmitted by a bite of black fly (Simulium damnosum) which breeds in fast following rivers.

"Its symptoms include unbearable itching, disfiguring skin diseases, changes in skin texture including thickening, darkness and hypopigmentation and blindness," he added.

For the prevention and treatment of river blindness, people should wear protective clothing to protect themselves against bites of black flies. He lamented over some key challenges the NTDs programme was facing which included CDDs apathy, community inertia and poor social mobilisation.

The chairperson for the occasion, Dr. Joyce Aryee, encouraged journalists to specialize in NTDs reportage to educate the public on ways of preventing NTDS.

Dr. Aryee encouraged the media to raise awareness about the importance of keeping basic hygiene in the communities.

She urged the public to keep their environments clean and ensure that the breeding grounds for mosquitos - which was a vector for both malaria and elephantiasis - such as swamps and busy areas were cleared.

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