A research team from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) traveled to Lamu, an island in the Lamu Archipelago off the coast of Kenya, in 2020 to assess the impact of a breakthrough drug approach – triple drug therapy that includes ivermectin, diethylcarbamazine and albendazole (IDA) – to help accelerate the elimination of lymphatic filariasis. Left untreated, lymphatic filariasis, a neglected tropical disease (NTD), can lead to debilitating swelling of the limbs and scrotum. Kenya is one of the first countries to introduce this new triple drug therapy.
Professor Sammy Njenga (center), Chief Research Scientist at KEMRI, led the team on the operational research expedition supported by The Task Force’s Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center (NTD-SC).
Njenga explains the significance of the research
During their visit, the team collected groups of mosquitoes to be analyzed for evidence of the parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis. This will indicate if the IDA therapy is needed in Lamu. Since this new drug approach was introduced, NTD-SC has guided research on the safety and social acceptability of the therapy, including conducting clinical trials in India and Fiji. This research led to the new therapy being implemented in global disease guidelines by the World Health Organization. Now that the therapy is being rolled out in Kenya, NTD-SC is supporting Njenga’s team to test the therapy’s ongoing effectiveness.
Njenga on studying mosquito samples.
From the samples collected during their trip to the research sites, the team examines mosquitoes under a microscope to conduct molecular xenomonitoring, the process of looking for parasitic infections within insect vectors as a part of their research. Due to lockdowns from COVID-19, research has been stalled in the last year.
Njenga on the impact of COVID-19
Traps set in the households collect the mosquitoes which typically bite at night. If they detect DNA from the lymphatic filariasis parasite in the mosquitoes, that’s their cue to begin testing for the infection in humans living in the same area.
The KEMRI team traveled by boat to all of the islands in the Lamu Archipelago on the coast of Kenya to survey the incidences of lymphatic filariasis in the island communities. This research will help other countries assess whether or not they can and should utilize this new approach.
Njenga on the “joy” of contributing to disease elimination