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WHO to Verify China's Elimination of Filariasis

The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to give a verification on China's elimination of filariasis in September, said a Chinese health official on Monday.

China has suggested the WHO send a team to re-examine the regions which have reached the criteria of filariasis elimination, Hao Yang, depute director of the Department of Disease Prevention and Control of the Ministry of Health, told Xinhua in an interview.

"If confirmed by the WHO, China will be the first country in the world to lower the transmission rate to less than one percent for at least five years, which is the WHO's criteria for filariasis elimination," said Hao, who was just back from a meeting held in Fiji by the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis.

China submitted at the meeting its application for the verification to the WHO, which in 1997 vowed to eliminate filariasis around the globe by 2020.

Lymphatic filariasis, which causes severe and debilitating swelling, particularly of the limbs, is caused by filarial parasites. The parasites are transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. The adult parasites lodge in the lymphatic vessels where they cause inflammation, blocking the vessels.

This blocks drainage of fluid from the limb, causing massive swelling which is usually progressive and permanent. However, both chronic disease and transmission can be prevented if infection is treated early.

According to the WHO, about 1.1 billion people are at risk of infection of the disease, with an estimated 120 million people infected, the majority of which are in Asia and the Pacific region.

China has 16 endemic provinces of filariasis with a total population of 341 million people at risk. People who were infected with the disease were often said to have "elephant legs," which refer to elephantiasis, another name commonly known for filariasis.

All the 864 endemic counties and cities reached the criteria for basic elimination by 1994, according to Hao.

The Chinese government has been working hard in controlling filariasis since the 1950s. People in the endemic regions were provided salt mixed with DEC, a drug for preventing filariasis, from 1970 to 1990, and got effective results, the official said.

"The success of China ... is proof that elimination of lymphatic filariasis is possible if given the necessary levels of political support, adequate funding and public commitment," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, at the meeting in Fiji.

In the future, China will continue surveillance of the disease throughout the country and strengthen prevention of filariasis cases from other countries, said Hao.

The Republic of Korea is expected to be the second country to achieve elimination of the disease, according to the meeting.

(Xinhua News Agency April 5, 2006)

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