NEW DELHI — A video entitled “Giant footprints!” opens with a group of children playing happily in a field. One of them finds a giant footprint, which they follow, slowly joined by the rest of their town, to a health clinic. The door to the clinic opens and the producer of the footprint is revealed: a man with lymphatic filariasis whose symptoms are severe swelling of the feet and legs. The video encourages everyone to get their yearly dose of preventative lymphatic filariasis medication.
This video is the latest in a campaign in India to eradicate lymphatic filariasis, a neglected tropical disease, or NTD, that threatens almost half of its population, or about half a billion people. The disease causes disability and severe disfigurement and is highly prevalent in India, but is also easily prevented with a yearly dose of medication.
The campaign, called ‘Hathipaon Mukt Bharat” or Filaria Free India, was launched by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, or MOHFW, late last year. It is one of India’s largest-ever health campaigns and combines door-to-door delivery of medication, outreach and education. The video produced for the campaign is being disseminated through regional television channels, mobile, web-based and mass media channels, and radio and print media in vernacular languages of specific states.
Because lymphatic filariasis, also called filaria or elephantiasis, takes eight to 10 years to manifest, most people are complacent about taking preventative medication. This is addressed in outreach efforts and the nature of the free, door-to-door delivery of medication. However, many still fail to consume their medications. A main point in the campaign is the stress on the seriousness of the disease and the simplicity of prevention.
C.K. Mishra, Additional Secretary and Mission Director of the National Health Mission at the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, says that “the last mile of the journey is often the most difficult” but that “India has made great strides over the last decade to eliminate lymphatic filariasis in endemic states” like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. Mishra adds that the MOHFW is “employing a wide range of new communications tactics and partnerships that will help us encourage all people at risk from this disease to consume their free dose of medicine during our annual mass drug administrations.”
The MOHFW partnered with the U.S.-based Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an enterprise of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, for the campaign. The Global Network “works to raise the awareness, political will and funds necessary to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs by 2020.” NTDs are the most common diseases of the poorest populations and now affect one in six people in the world, including half a billion children. The seven most common NTDs are ascariasis, hookworm, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, trachoma and trichuriasis.
– Caitlin Huber