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FAQ | Along with COVID, Maharashtra Resumes Fight Against Filariasis

Maharashtra is all set to resume battle against Lymphatic Filariasis, also called as 'Hatthirog'.

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FAQ | Along with COVID, Maharashtra Resumes Fight Against Filariasis
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Maharashtra became the first state to fully vaccinate 1 crore citizens against COVID-19.

And now, another milestone, as it leads the way when it comes to strengthening and innovating the public healthcare system to ensure that the poorest and the most vulnerable are not left behind in terms of affordable access to quality healthcare.

The state resumed the crucial Mass Drug Administration rounds in 6 districts to continue the fight against Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as Filaria.

FIT had the chance to speak with Dr Pradeep Vyas, additional chief secretary, Maharashtra on this intervention, and why it’s crucial to take a multi-sectoral approach to eliminating Lymphatic Filariasis.

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What is Lymphatic Filariasis?

Lymphatic Filariasis (or elephantiasis) also known as “Hatthirog” in Maharashtra, is a painful, disfiguring disease that is spread by mosquitoes.

It causes abnormal enlargement of body parts (lower limbs and scrotum) and can lead to disability. Infection is usually acquired in childhood and causes hidden damage to the lymphatic system.

Despite being preventable, Lymphatic Filariasis continues to impact millions of Indians.

What is Mass Drug Administration and How Does it Work?

MDA is the globally accepted approach through which anti-filarial drugs are administered to the entire eligible population of an endemic region at a regular interval, irrespective of the individual infection status in the community.

Maharashtra has 18 Filaria endemic districts, of which six of them, Bhandara, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Gondia, Yavatmal and Nanded are undertaking MDA.

These drugs are administered door-to-door by trained health workers and ASHAs and are completely safe and effective.

These drug administrators also follow COVID appropriate behaviour like masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and contactless administration.

If Filaria isn't fatal, why take these drugs?

While the disease isn’t fatal, the impact that it can have on one’s life is damaging.

Patients with swellings in the limbs and in the genital region experience difficulties in carrying out day-to-day activities.

Because of which they tend to work for fewer hours or are forced to withdraw from their employment to take on lighter and less remunerative jobs, impairing their earning capacity.

The visible disfiguration caused by Filaria also leads to societal stigma and discrimination, leading to mental distress.

These drugs are critical as most infections are silent with no symptoms and most do not even know that they are infected.

Maharashtra has seen two COVID waves and is now preparing for a third. Despite this, the state also prioritised these MDA rounds. Why the urgency?

While Maharashtra has been badly affected by both waves, it has been praised for its efforts and foresightedness.

In anticipation of the third wave, the state has already constituted Pediatric Task Force and has started organizing paediatrics training programme for its medical staff and students with the help of adjoining Medical Colleges.

Beds and Oxygen availability is being augmented.

Assessment has also been made of required medicine doses and steps being taken to procure these.

Vaccination against COVID is also being ramped up. The state also understands that MDA rounds are crucial to stop new infection in the community and must be resumed.

Filaria also tends to afflict the poorer, marginalized sections of society, especially those hidden in remote areas and traditionally, forgotten in the larger health narrative.

What if these patients were to be pushed back further into poverty and illness because of further delay?

Hence, resuming these rounds becomes even more significant.

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The state is also committed to supporting India’s target to eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis 2021 elimination target and realises that adopting a collaborative, integrated approach for the elimination programme within the government’s relentless efforts to tackle COVID-19 can help improve sustainability, optimize use of resources and strengthen linkages with sanitation and integrated vector control.

The state has almost completed these MDA rounds , what was the performance like?

Despite the restrictions posed by COVID-19 and the monsoon in the state, the health workers have impressively managed to cover 93% of the eligible population.

The programme also designs independent assessment surveys led by local medical collages to assess community coverage and compliance beyond what the health department monitors.

Identified gaps will be covered through rigorous mop up rounds over the next 3 days, that will address deep rooted non-compliance issues & misconceptions.

We also hope to cover close to 95% of the eligible community with these rounds.

Our state machinery, brave health workers and ASHAs’ efforts must be lauded as they managed to administer drugs to an enthused community even in interior pockets like Gadchiroli, with the challenges of road connectivity and floods.

(Want answers to your painful woes? Send in your questions to fit@thequint.com, and we will get pain experts to answer them for you.)

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