Elimination of lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem from the Cook Islands.

Ave C, Kapa DR, Ottesen E


The Cook Islands has a long history of high-endemicity lymphatic filariasis (LF) transmitted by vector mosquitoes. Though the infection prevalence had declined between 1975 and 1999 following episodic treatment activities, still infection was widespread with pockets of persistent infection. Beginning in 1999, the Cook Islands embarked on a national program, in partnership with Pacific Programme to Eliminate LF (PacELF), to eliminate LF as a public health problem.


All 12 inhabited islands were identified as endemic, and six rounds of mass drug administration (MDA) with once-yearly, single-dose albendazole plus diethylcarbamazine (DEC) were implemented during 2000-2006 to interrupt transmission of LF. Surveys carried out at the baseline, mid-term, stop-MDA, and post-MDA periods assessed LF antigen (Ag) prevalence in children and adults. Historical data, health workers' observations, and hospital records were used to assess the trend and burden of chronic disease.


The baseline Ag prevalence (1999) ranged from 2.0% in Manihiki to > 18.0% in Aitutaki, Mitiaro, and Pukapuka, and the national average Ag prevalence was 8.6%. MDA, carried out with a national treatment coverage over six annual rounds of MDA ranging from 63.5 to 96.7% in different years, was stopped in 2007. By then, the national Ag prevalence had declined to 0.27%. The post-MDA surveillance survey results (2013-2014) showed that Ag prevalence had fallen to 0% in 11/12 islands, and the national prevalence was only 0.03%. Chronic filarial disease had almost entirely disappeared.


The Cook Islands met all the criteria required for the World Health Organization (WHO) to acknowledge elimination of LF as a public health problem, as it did officially in 2016. This success also confirms that LF, even when transmitted by mosquitoes that are recognized to be more efficient than other vector species, can be eliminated as a public health problem by six rounds of MDA.