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On 8 May 1980, the 33rd World Health Assembly officially declared: ‘The world and all its peoples have won freedom from smallpox.’ 

The declaration marked the end of a disease that had plagued humanity for at least 3 000 years, killing 300 million people in the 20th century alone.


It was ended, thanks to a 10-year global effort, spearheaded by the World Health Organization, that involved thousands of health workers around the world to administer half a billion vaccinations to stamp out smallpox.

The US$ 300m price-tag to eradicate smallpox saves the world well over US$ 1 billion every year since 1980.

Speaking at a virtual event hosted at WHO-HQ, involving key players in the eradication effort, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity’s victory over smallpox is a reminder of what is possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat.”

The world got rid of smallpox thanks to an incredible demonstration of global solidarity, and because it had a safe and effective vaccine. Solidarity plus science equalled solution!


Dr Tedros highlighted that smallpox eradication also offers hope for efforts to eliminate other infectious diseases, including polio, which is now endemic in just two countries. To date, 187 countries, territories and areas have been certified free of Guinea worm disease, with seven more to go. And the fight against malaria has so far resulted in 38 countries and territories certified as malaria-free. In the case of Tuberculosis (TB), 57 countries and territories with low TB incidence are on track to reach TB elimination.

At the event, Dr Tedros unveiled a commemorative postal stamp to recognize the global solidarity that drove the initiative and honour the efforts of health workers who ensured its success.

The stamp, developed by the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA), in collaboration with WHO, signifies what national unity and global solidary can achieve. Numerous countries, such as Guinea, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Togo and others issued smallpox stamps to show support for, and raise awareness about WHO’s Intensified Smallpox Eradication Programme launched in 1967.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s earliest memories of smallpox is of her father. “I was visiting WHO headquarters, and I saw a photo of my Dad, standing with the other experts on the Global Commission. I remember him going out, doing follow-up visits with patients.  He often would go with a driver and disappear into the bush for days. I felt in awe of his tireless work. The strategies used to eradicate smallpox still apply today.”


“Lessons learned from smallpox are used today to respond to disease outbreaks. For example, house-to-house active case-finding underpins the polio eradication programme, and ring vaccination of contacts is helping to combat the spread of the Ebola virus disease. Similarly, surveillance, case-finding, testing, contact-tracing, quarantine, and communication campaigns to dispel misinformation are central to controlling COVID-19, “ explained David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and  Distinguished Fellow, Global Health Security at Chatham House, London.

Following smallpox eradication, WHO and UNICEF launched the Expanded Programme on Immunization, under which 85% of the world’s children are vaccinated and protected from debilitating diseases.

With the potential of a COVID-19 vaccine ahead, ensuring sufficient supplies and reaching people in hard to reach places is a high priority. Addressing vaccine hesitancy poses a significant challenge to stop the virus. Access to accurate public health information and education is critical to ensure that the public has the facts to keep themselves and others safe.

To permanently commemorate the eradication of smallpox and the lessons learned on a global scale, rather than every 10-years, WHO is calling museums, exhibition companies, designers, curators and associations to develop an immersive, interactive and educational exhibition on smallpox and its relevance for COVID-19 and global health security.  The exhibition, which will be unveiled later this year, will promote a better understanding of public health and empower people to keep informed and safe during a pandemic.

Notes to the media

Smallpox stamp

The smallpox stamp is in the denomination of CHF 1,70. It was designed by Sergio Baradat (United Nations) in collaboration with the World Health Organization and is available for purchase at unstamps.org. The stamp can be used to mail postcards and letters around the world, provided that they are sent from the UN headquarters in New York, Geneva or Vienna respectively.


Smallpox Eradication dates

On 9 December 1979, a global commission certified that smallpox had been eradicated, and this certification was officially accepted by the 33rd World Health Assembly in 1980.

Museum Exhibition

Exhibition design companies, museums, curators and other companies/organizations in this field are invited to express their interest to develop an immersive, educational exhibition on smallpox and its relevance for COVID-19 and global health security by writing to privatesectorpartners@who.int

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Falsified and contaminated Defibrotide identified in WHO regions of Western Pacific, Europe and Eastern Mediterranean

This alert relates to falsified DEFIBROTIDE 200MG VIALS OF 2.5ML (80MG/ML) CONCENTRATE FOR SOLUTION FOR INFUSION identified in Australia, Latvia and Saudi Arabia. This product is sold under the brand name Defitelio.

On 13 March 2020, the WHO Global Surveillance and Monitoring System on Substandard and Falsified (SF) Medical Products was informed that falsified DEFIBROTIDE 200MG vials were identified at patient level in Australia, displaying batch number 0286 (see Table 1 below for full details).

Following enquiries with stakeholders, on 8 April 2020, WHO was informed that falsified DEFIBROTIDE 200MG vials had also been supplied to Saudi Arabia, displaying batch number 0286 and 0126 (see Table 1 below for full details).

Following enquiries with stakeholders, on 9 April 2020, WHO was informed that falsified DEFIBROTIDE 200MG vials, displaying batch number 0126, had also been identified in Australia and Latvia.

DEFIBROTIDE is used to treat hepatic veno-occlusive disease, in which the blood vessels in the liver become damaged and obstructed by blood clots. This can be caused by treatments prior to a stem cell transplantation.

Laboratory analyses, conducted by national medicines regulatory authorities and the manufacturer of the genuine product, established that these falsified products do not contain any of the expected active ingredient. The solution in the vials is also contaminated with mould (Cladosporium sp. and Aspergillus niger).

Information available to WHO indicates that both batches of falsified DEFIBROTIDE 200MG vials were present within the regulated supply chain in Latvia as early as January 2020 and were also handled by medicine wholesalers in the United Kingdom in February 2020. It is important to note that widespread vigilance is required from all countries, regardless of where the product was originally identified.

Table 1: falsified defibrotide subject of WHO Alert n°5/2020, identified in Australia, Latvia and Saudi Arabia

The two products listed in Table 1 are confirmed falsified, on the basis that there is deliberate misrepresentation of their identity, composition and source.

The genuine manufacturer of Defibrotide, GENTIUM S.R.L has also confirmed to WHO that:

  • They did not manufacture the above products.
  • Authentic DEFIBROTIDE 200MG VIALS with batch number 0286 were supplied to Argentina, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Turkey.
  • Authentic DEFIBROTIDE 200MG VIALS with batch number 0126 were supplied to Australia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. 

    For guidance and photographs, please refer to page 2 of this Alert n°5/2020.

Photos of Falsified DEFIBROTIDE Batch number: 0286, with expiry date: 09/2021

Sample from Latvia       Sample from Latvia

Photos of Falsified DEFIBROTIDE Batch number: 0126, with expiry date: 08/2021

Sample from Australia       Sample from Australia

WHO requests increased vigilance within the supply chains of countries likely to be affected by these falsified products. Increased vigilance should include hospitals, clinics, health centres, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacies and any other suppliers of medical products.

If you are in possession of the above products, please do not use them. If you have used these falsified products, or if you suffer an adverse reaction/event having used these products, you are advised to seek immediate medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional, and to report the incident to the National Regulatory Authorities/National Pharmacovigilance Centre.

All medical products must be obtained from licensed, authorized and reliable sources. Their authenticity and condition should be carefully checked. Seek advice from a healthcare professional in case of doubt.

National regulatory/health authorities are advised to immediately notify WHO if these falsified products are identified in their country(ies). If you have any information concerning the manufacture, distribution, or supply of these products, please contact rapidalert@who.int.

WHO Global Surveillance and Monitoring System for Substandard and Falsified Medical Products

For further information, please visit our website: https://www.who.int/medicines/regulation/ssffc/en/ 

Medical Product Alert N°5/2020 - 7 May 2020
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About half a billion people worldwide are living with genital herpes, and several billion have an oral herpes infection, new estimates show, highlighting the need to improve awareness and scale up services to prevent and treat herpes.

About 13% of the world’s population aged 15 to 49 years were living with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection in 2016, the latest year for which data is available.  HSV-2 is almost exclusively sexually transmitted, causing genital herpes. Infection can lead to recurring, often painful, genital sores in up to a third of people infected.

Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is mainly transmitted by oral to oral contact to cause oral herpes infection – sometimes leading to painful sores in or around the mouth (“cold sores”). However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral sex, causing genital herpes.

Around 67% of the world’s population aged 0 to 49 had HSV-1 infection in 2016 – an estimated 3.7 billion people. Most of these infections were oral; however, between 122 million to 192 million people were estimated to have genital HSV-1

Genital herpes is a substantial health concern worldwide – beyond the potential pain and discomfort suffered by people living with the infection, the associated social consequences can have a profound effect on sexual and reproductive
health” says Dr Ian Askew, Director of the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Herpes and HIV

People with HSV-2 infection are at least three times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed. Thus, HSV-2 likely plays a substantial role in the spread of HIV globally. Women are more susceptible to both HSV-2 and HIV. Women living in
the WHO Africa Region have the highest HSV-2 prevalence and exposure to HIV – putting them at greatest risk of HIV infection.

No cure: vaccine needed

There is no cure for herpes. Antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms but cannot cure the infection.

Better awareness, improved access to antiviral medications and heightened HIV prevention efforts for those with genital HSV symptoms are needed globally. In addition, development of better treatment and prevention interventions is needed, particularly
HSV vaccines.  

“A vaccine against HSV infection would not only help to promote and protect the health and well-being of millions of people, particularly women, worldwide – it could also potentially have an impact on slowing the spread of HIV, if developed
and provided alongside other HIV prevention strategies” says Dr Meg Doherty, Director of the WHO Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis, and STI Programmes.

Authored by staff at the University of Bristol, the WHO, and Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, and published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization, this new study estimates the global infection prevalence and incidence of HSV-1 and HSV-2
in 2016. 

Billions worldwide living with herpes
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As the world comes together to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to ensure that tuberculosis (TB) prevention and care approaches are adapting appropriately to ensure continuous and safe delivery of high-quality TB services. Considering the overlaps in TB and COVID-19 in disease presentation and transmission, the pandemic presents many questions for the TB field that may require learning through research and innovation. 

To better understand challenges and opportunities in this space, the World Health Organization Global TB Programme is collating information on ongoing research at the interface of TB and COVID-19 (i.e. research which would improve TB prevention and care approaches in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic). We are developing a living compendium (listing), which will be updated periodically to make ongoing research projects and publications visible on its website. With your consent we would like to include any study you have in this compendium.

To fulfill these objectives, we need the cooperation of organizations and individuals engaged in TB/COVID-19 research to complete this  one page template before 20 May 2020. We encourage you to please share this in your network, so we can reach all stakeholders widely.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation, and please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

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  • WHO and the European Investment Bank enhance cooperation to support countries in addressing the health impact of COVID-19
  • The first phase will address urgent needs and strengthen primary health care in ten African countries
  • Enhanced WHO-EIB partnership will scale up financing to assure the chain of essential supplies, including personal protective equipment, diagnostics and clinical management
  • New initiative will accelerate investment in health preparedness and primary health care with a focus on health work force, infrastructure, and water, sanitation and hygiene
  • The initiative involves measures to address the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance

The World Health Organization and the European Investment Bank will boost cooperation to strengthen public health, supply of essential equipment, training and hygiene investment in countries most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new partnership between the United Nations health agency and the world’s largest international public bank, announced at WHO headquarters in Geneva earlier today, will help increase resilience to reduce the health and social impact of future health emergencies. 

“Combining the public health experience of the World Health Organization and the financial expertise of the European Investment Bank will contribute to a more effective response to COVID-19 and other pressing health challenges,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

“WHO looks forward to strengthening cooperation with the EIB to improve access to essential supplies including medical equipment and training, and deliver better water, sanitation and hygiene where most needed. New initiatives to improve primary health care in Africa and support the EU Malaria Fund hint at the potential impact of our new partnership,” Dr Tedros concluded.

“The world is facing unprecedented health, social and economic shocks from COVID-19. The European Investment Bank is pleased to join forces with the World Health Organization as a key part of Team Europe’s efforts to address the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU Bank’s new partnership with the WHO will help communities most at risk by scaling up local medical and public health efforts and better protect people around the world from future pandemics. This new cooperation will enable us to combat malaria, address anti-microbial resistance and enhance public health in Africa more effectively,” said Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank.

Improving local public health efforts to tackle coronavirus

The WHO and the EIB will increase cooperation to help governments in low- and middle-income countries to finance and secure access to essential medical supplies and protective equipment through central procurement.

Building resilient health systems in vulnerable countries across Africa

The WHO and the EIB will reinforce cooperation to support immediate COVID-19 needs and jointly develop targeted financing to enhance health investment and build resilient health systems and primary health care to address public health emergencies as well as accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage.

The partnership will benefit from the EIB’s planned 1.4 billion EUR response to address the health, social and economic impact of COVID-19 in Africa.

This will address immediate needs in the health sector and provide both technical assistance and support for medium-term investment in specialist health infrastructure.

The collaboration envisages rapid identification and fast-track approval of financing for health care, medical equipment and supplies. 

The first phase of the collaboration will see public health investment in ten African countries. 

Long-term collaboration to overcome market failures in global health

The agreement signed today establishes a close collaboration to overcome market failure and stimulate investments in global health, accelerating progress towards Universal Health Coverage. Increased cooperation between the WHO and the EIB will strengthen the resilience of national public health systems and enhance preparedness of vulnerable countries against future pandemics, thanks to investments in primary care infrastructure, health workers and improved water, sanitation and hygiene. 

Future cooperation will strengthen the EIB’s 5.2 billion EUR global response to COVID-19 outside the European Union.

Scaling up investment to tackle antimicrobial resistance

The two organisations will also cooperate in an initiative to address investment barriers hindering development of new antimicrobial treatment and related diagnostics. Antimicrobial resistance is amongst the most significant global health threats.

The WHO and the EIB are working on a new financing initiative to support development of novel antimicrobials and address the estimated 1 billion EUR needed to provide medium-term solutions to antimicrobial resistance. Other crucial partners have been invited to join this discussion. 

Improving the effectiveness of malaria treatment

Under the new agreement the EIB and WHO will support development of the EU Malaria Fund, a new 250 million EUR public-private initiative intended to address market failures holding back more effective malaria treatment. 

Strengthening EIB support for healthcare, life science and COVID-19 investment

In recent years the European Investment Bank has provided more than 2 billion EUR annually for health care and life science investment.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EIB is currently assessing over 20 projects in the field of vaccine development, diagnostic and treatment, leading to potential investments in the 700 million EUR range. The EIB will also take part in the EU’s rolling pledging effort for the coronavirus global response that is taking place on May 4th.

Background information

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the long-term lending institution of the European Union owned by its Member States. It makes long-term finance available for sound investment in order to contribute towards EU policy goals.

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and wellbeing. For updates on COVID-19 and public health advice to protect yourself from coronavirus, visit www.who.int and follow WHO on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, YouTube

WHO’s information site on the COVID-19 pandemic

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Virus causing genital herpes may put millions of people at greater risk of infection with HIV

About half a billion people worldwide are living with genital herpes, and several billion have an oral herpes infection, new estimates show.

Authored by staff at the University of Bristol, World Health Organization (WHO), and Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, and published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization,
the new study estimates the global infection prevalence and incidence of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) in 2016. 

“Herpes infection affects millions of people across the globe and can have far-reaching health effects. We need more investment and commitment to develop better treatment and prevention tools for this infection.” says Dr Sami Gottlieb, Medical
Officer at WHO and an author of the study.

Prevalence and incidence

An estimated 491.5 million people were living with HSV-2 infection in 2016, equivalent to 13.2% of the world’s population aged 15 to 49 years. HSV-2 is almost exclusively sexually transmitted, causing infection in the genital or anal area (genital

An estimated 3.7 billion people had HSV-1 infection during the same year – around 66.6% of the world’s population aged 0 to 49. HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral to oral contact to cause infection in or around the mouth (oral herpes). However,
HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral-genital contact – during oral sex – to cause genital herpes. Most HSV-1 infections were oral; however, between 122 million to 192 million people were estimated to have genital
HSV-1 infection, depending on the assumptions used in the estimation model.

Because herpes is a lifelong infection, estimated prevalence increased with age; HSV-2 prevalence was also higher among women and in the WHO African Region.

Health and social impacts

Most people living with herpes, caused by either HSV-1 or 2, are unaware they have the infection.

When symptoms do occur however, oral herpes infection can lead to painful sores around the mouth (“cold sores”). Genital herpes infection can cause recurring, often painful, genital sores, often referred to as genital ulcer disease. 

WHO and partners published a study in March 2020 estimating that around 5% of the world’s population (187 million people) suffered from at least one episode of herpes-related genital ulcer disease in 2016 (1). Most of these episodes were due to
HSV-2, which can recur frequently over many years.

Recurrent symptoms of genital herpes can lead to stigma and psychological distress, and can have an important impact on quality of life and sexual relationships. However, in time, most people with herpes adjust to living with the infection.

“Genital herpes is a substantial health concern worldwide – beyond the potential pain and discomfort suffered by people living with the infection, the associated social consequences can have a profound effect on sexual and reproductive health”
says Dr Ian Askew, Director of the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. 

Herpes and HIV

A strong association exists between HSV-2 infection and HIV infection. In 2019, WHO commissioned a modeling study to estimate how much HSV-2 infection might contribute to HIV incidence. The study estimated that almost 30% of new sexually acquired HIV
infections in 2016 worldwide were likely attributable to HSV-2 infection (2). 

Evidence shows that people with HSV-2 infection are at least three times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed. HSV-2 leads to inflammation and small breaks in the genital and anal skin that can make it easier for HIV to cause infection.
In addition, people with both HIV and HSV-2 infection are more likely to spread HIV to others.

Women have higher biologic susceptibility to both HSV-2 and HIV. Women living in the WHO Africa Region have the highest HSV-2 prevalence and exposure to HIV – putting them at greatest risk of HIV infection, with negative implications for their health
and well-being. 

For people living with HIV (or who are living with other conditions that compromise their immune systems) as well as HSV-2, the symptoms of herpes can be more severe and more frequent. 

Neonatal herpes

Neonatal herpes can occur when an infant is exposed to HSV in the genital tract during delivery. This is a rare condition, occurring in an estimated 10 out of every 100,000 births globally, but can lead to lasting neurologic disability or death. The risk
for neonatal herpes is greatest when a mother acquires HSV infection for the first time in late pregnancy. Women who have genital herpes before they become pregnant are at very low risk of transmitting HSV to their infants.

No cure – better treatment and prevention needed

There is no cure for herpes. At present, antiviral medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms but cannot cure the infection.

As well as increasing awareness about HSV infection and its symptoms, improved access to antiviral medications and heightened HIV prevention efforts for those with genital HSV symptoms are needed globally. 

In addition, development of better treatment and prevention interventions is needed, particularly HSV vaccines. WHO and partners are working to accelerate research to develop new strategies for prevention and control of HSV infections. Such research includes
the development of HSV vaccines and topical microbicides. Several candidate vaccines and microbicides are currently being studied.

“A vaccine against HSV infection would not only help to promote and protect the health and well-being of millions of people, particularly women, worldwide – it could also potentially have an impact on slowing the spread of HIV, if developed
and provided alongside other HIV prevention strategies” says Dr Meg Doherty, Director of the WHO Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis, and STI Programmes.

Related publications

WHO guidelines for the treatment of Genital Herpes Simplex Virus

WHO preferred product characteristics for herpes simplex virus vaccines



(1) Looker KJ, Johnston C, Welton NJ, et al. The global and regional burden of genital ulcer disease due to herpes simplex virus: a natural history modelling study. BMJ Glob Health. 2020;5(3):e001875. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2019- 001875.

(2) Looker KJ, Welton NJ, Sabin KM, et al.Global and regional estimates of the contribution of herpes simplex virus type 2 infection to HIV incidence: a population attributable fraction analysis using published epidemiological data. Lancet Infect Dis.2020;20(2):240-249. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(19)30470-0.

Massive proportion of world’s population are living with herpes infection
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Indonesia recently completed the last of its annual large-scale treatment for lymphatic filariasis (also known as elephantiasis or Penyakit Kaki Gajah) in Malaka District located in its southernmost province, East Nusa Tenggara. Unprecedented
progress by the National Lymphatic Filariasis Elimination Programme has strongly placed the country on the path to achieving the elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.

“We reached an estimated number of 40.7 million people living in the 118 high-risk districts during this month-long treatment campaign in October 2019” said Dr Anung Sugihantono, who recently retired as Director General of Diseases
Prevention and Control, Ministry of Health Indonesia. “
Single doses of diethylcarbamazine citrate and albendazole facilitated by WHO were delivered to all eligible populations.”

In 2010, an estimated 125 million Indonesians were still at risk of the disease and required treatment.

But things changed considerably in 2015 when Indonesia mounted an annual national campaign to resolutely address transmission of the disease and to tackle the morbidity and disability associated with it. The results were apparent as early as 2017, with
remarkable progress.

In Indonesia, LF is considered a significant public health concern. In 2009, risk mapping identified a population of 124.5 million people needing treatment for LF. The country initiated a national level LF elimination campaign in 2015, addressing both
disease prevention and management. 

“In 2017 and in just two years we managed to achieve 100% geographical coverage of all people requiring treatment” said Dr Sugihantono. “It meant achieving more than 78% epidemiological coverage – much higher than the generally recommended 65% to stop transmission.”

Transmission of lymphatic filariasis can be stopped through large-scale treatment (or mass drug administration – MDA) of entire at- risk communities with recommended medicines once a year. These medicines kill the microfilariae in an infected patient’s
blood preventing mosquitoes to transmit1 the disease to others. Through mass treatment, the aim is to reduce the reservoir of microfilariae in the blood to a level insufficient to maintain transmission by the mosquito vector.

This strategy to interrupt transmission is the corner-stone of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Program to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis (GPELF). Indonesia has been using the GPELF’s strategy since 2002 using a district or city
as its implementation unit.

In 2005, it listed the elimination of LF as a national priority for controlling infectious diseases and the medicines it has been using in large-scale treatment programmes are diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) and albendazole2 which are
largely distributed by volunteer community health workers3.

“Community health volunteers are themselves members of the community and know how to reach people effectively to improve compliance” said Dr. Stefanus Bria Seran, the Regent of Malaka District, one of LF endemic district in Indonesia. “Besides ensuring every single person ingests the medicine given to them, these community workers help in disseminating information well before a large-scale treatment campaign and also assist in reporting activities related to each treatment campaign”. 

Indonesia’s efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis began in the 1970s but faced numerous challenges including programme coordination in the many inhabited islands, conducting information, education and awareness programmes, lack of capacity and
insufficient medicines.

Furthermore, the situation in Indonesia is unusual than in many other countries endemic for lymphatic filariasis as the country is endemic for all three species of thread-like filarial worms – Brugia malayi, Brugia timori, and Wuchereria bancrofti –
that cause the disease. Most of the infections in Indonesia, however, are caused by B. malayi.

In the past, some of the factors that prevented access to the medicines (DEC and albendazole) were social stigmatization linked to the disease, the vast geography of the territory and challenges in reaching remote populations.

With an estimated population of 242 million, Indonesia is the world’s largest island nation and consists of approximately 17,000 islands, of which 5,000–6,000 are inhabited. It is the fourth most populated nation behind China, India, and the United

Indonesia is endemic for many other neglected tropical diseases and an estimated 110 million Indonesians are believed to suffer from at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD), including lymphatic filariasis and soil-transmitted helminth infections.
Leptospirosis (not classified as NTD) is also widespread.

Indonesia is the only country of WHO’s South East Asia Region with endemic schistosomiasis. Like many other countries of the Region, it also faces recurrent threats of dengue outbreaks.

Global progress

The world has made significant progress towards the elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.

Sixteen countries4 and one territory are now acknowledged by WHO to have achieved elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.  

Seven additional countries have successfully implemented recommended strategies, stopped large-scale treatment and are under surveillance to demonstrate that elimination has been achieved.

The disease

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by infection with parasitic worms living in the lymphatic system. The larval stages of the parasite (microfilaria) circulate in the blood and are transmitted from person to person by mosquitoes.

Infection involves asymptomatic, acute, and chronic conditions. Most infections are asymptomatic, showing no external signs while contributing to transmission of the parasite. Although asymptomatic, these infections still cause damage to the lymphatic
system and the kidneys and alter the body’s immune system.

When lymphatic filariasis develops into chronic conditions it leads to lymphoedema (tissue swelling) or elephantiasis (skin/tissue thickening) of limbs and hydrocele (scrotal swelling). Involvement of breasts and genital organs are common.

Manifestation of the disease after infection takes time and can result in an altered lymphatic system, causing abnormal enlargement of body parts, and leading to severe disability and social stigmatization of those affected.


1Lymphatic filariasis is transmitted by different types of mosquitoes – e.g the Culex mosquito which widespread across urban and semi-urban areas; Anopheles, mainly found in rural areas; and, Aedes, mainly
in endemic islands in the Pacific.

2In 2017, WHO recommended an alternative three drug treatment to accelerate the global elimination of lymphatic filariasis. The treatment, known as IDA, involves a combination of ivermectin, diethylcarbamazine citrate and albendazole.
It is recommended annually in settings where its use is expected to have the greatest impact.

3Community health workers, also called ‘cadres’, are volunteers who form part of the communities they serve and work with local
communities to educate families. Their contribution in promoting health has been significant in the country.

4Cambodia, The Cook Islands, Egypt, Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Wallis and Futuna, and Yemen

Indonesia firmly committed to eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem
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Lyon, France, 29 April 2020 – In a study published in the Journal of Hepatology, 1 Professor Anna Maria Geretti and Dr Alexander Stockdale from the University of Liverpool (United Kingdom), in collaboration with researchers
from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), estimate that worldwide, hepatitis D virus (HDV) affects nearly 5% of people who have a chronic infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and that HDV
co-infection could explain about 1 in 5 cases of liver disease and liver cancer in people with HBV infection..

To map the epidemiology of HDV infection in the world, Professor Geretti and Dr Stockdale joined forces with the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme and IARC, alongside investigators in Germany, Malawi, and the United Kingdom. “Infection with HDV occurs
in about 1 in 22 cases of chronic HBV infection in the world,” Dr Stockdale says. “More high-quality data are needed, but we have identified several geographical hotspots of high prevalence of HDV infection: in Mongolia, the Republic of
Moldova, and countries in Western and Middle Africa.”

“Although it is less common than hepatitis B, hepatitis D is a serious disease that often affects underprivileged and vulnerable populations,” says Dr Meg Doherty, Director of the WHO Global Hepatitis Programme. Those who are more likely to
have HBV and HDV co-infection include people who inject drugs and people with hepatitis C virus or HIV infection. The risk of co-infection also appears to be higher in recipients of haemodialysis, men who have sex with men, and commercial sex workers.
Dr Doherty points out, “This information helps in identifying the groups with HBV among whom we should be looking for HDV.”

HDV (formerly known as the Delta agent) is a small virus – one of the smallest that is known to cause disease in humans – and can replicate only in the presence of HBV, from which HDV borrows some of its structures. Compared with people with
HBV infection alone, those who have a chronic infection with both HBV and HDV have a much higher risk of developing disease in the form of cirrhosis and liver cancer. “HDV is a significant contributor to severe liver disease and liver cancer,”
says IARC scientist Dr Catherine de Martel. “The findings from this study inform our work on the association between viral infections and cancer, which is focused on developing improved prevention strategies.”

Professor Geretti concludes, “HDV has long been neglected, because for decades the prevalence of infection remained uncertain and effective treatment was lacking. Mapping the epidemiology of the infection is just the first step. More efforts are
needed to reduce the global burden of chronic hepatitis B and develop medicines that are safe and effective against hepatitis D and are affordable enough to be deployed on a large scale to those who are most in need.”

1 Stockdale AJ, Kreuels B, Henrion MYR, Giorgi E, Kyomuhangi I, de Martel C, Hutin Y, Geretti AM (2020). The global prevalence of hepatitis D virus infection: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Hepatol. Published online 23 April 2020;

For more information, please contact

Véronique Terrasse, Communications Group, at +33 (0)6 45 28 49 52 or terrassev@iarc.fr or IARC Communications, at com@iarc.fr

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for
cancer control. The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships. If you wish your name to be removed from our press release emailing
list, please write to com@iarc.fr

About University of Liverpool

Founded in 1881 as the original ‘red brick’, the University of Liverpool is one of the UK’s leading research-intensive higher education institutions. Consistently ranked in the top 200 universities worldwide, we are a member of the prestigious
Russell Group and have a global reach and influence that reflects our academic heritage as one of the country’s largest civic institutions. For more information please visit us at www.liverpool.ac.uk

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Mothers and healthcare workers who support them have many questions and concerns about whether it is safe for mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 to be close to and breastfeed their babies during the pandemic.

To address their questions, WHO has released a list of Frequently asked questions: Breastfeeding and COVID-19. The FAQ complements the WHO interim guidance: Clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection when COVID-19 is suspected and draws upon other WHO recommendations on infant and young child feeding.

The FAQs aim to provide information to healthcare workers supporting mothers and families in maternity services and community settings, and communicate how the interim guidance should be implemented. Additionally, the FAQs provide information about the protective effects of breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, and the harmful effects of inappropriate use of infant formula milk.

Accompanying the FAQs is a decision tree which provides step-by-step guidance to health workers on how to support mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 to breastfeed. It provides advice on what to do if mothers are not well enough to breastfeed, as well as appropriate hygiene measures for mothers, including wearing a medical mask if available, to reduce the possibility of the COVID-19 virus being spread to her infant.

Benefits of breastfeeding outweigh potential risks

The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with confirmed and suspected COVID-19 and there is no evidence so far that the virus is transmitted through breastfeeding. Researchers continue to test breastmilk from mothers with the infection.

WHO recommends that all mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 continue to have skin-to-skin contact and to breastfeed. In all socio-economic settings, breastfeeding improves survival and provides lifelong health and development advantages to newborns and infants. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer for the mother. Skin-to-skin contact, including kangaroo mother care, reduces neonatal mortality, especially for low birth weight newborns.

While infants and children can contract COVID-19, they are at low risk of infection. The few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in young children to date have experienced only mild or asymptomatic illness.

WHO’s recommendations on the care and feeding of infants whose mothers have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 aim to improve the immediate and lifelong survival, health and development of their newborns and infants. These recommendations consider the likelihood and potential risks of COVID-19 in infants and also the risks of serious illness and death when infants are not breastfed or when infant formula milk are used inappropriately.

WHO’s Q&A on breastfeeding and COVID-19 also provides additional infection prevention advice to mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

New FAQs address healthcare workers questions on breastfeeding and COVID-19
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