Fighting tropical diseases in the Pacific Islands

Health care worker examining child's eye using flashlight and magnifier (USAID/Shea Flynn)
A health care specialist conducts a screening test for neglected tropical diseases on a child in the Solomon Islands. (USAID/Shea Flynn)

Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affect 1 billion people worldwide, primarily in tropical climates and low-income communities.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with Pacific Island nations to fight four of these parasitic and bacterial conditions that are prevalent in the region — lymphatic filariasis, scabies, soil-transmitted helminths and yaws.

By delivering medicine, conducting screenings and building awareness, USAID and its partners are working to rid the world of these preventable, debilitating diseases to build a healthier, more resilient region.

Lymphatic filariasis

Health care worker looking at camera with hand on patient's swollen leg (WHO)
A World Health Organization health care specialist examines a man with lymphatic filariasis in Papua New Guinea. (WHO)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified lymphatic filariasis — a mosquito-transmitted disease that can damage the kidneys and the immune and lymphatic systems and cause painful swelling and deformities — as a frequent and widespread problem in Papua New Guinea. The disease is present in 14 of the country’s 22 provinces.

USAID supports a drug treatment campaign that targets lymphatic filariasis in Papua New Guinea’s East New Britain province. As of May 2022, the program had treated nearly 83% of the province’s population. Treatment methods, such as antiparasitic drugs and chemotherapy, are critical to stopping the spread of lymphatic filariasis.


Working in partnership with the WHO, USAID has provided antiparasitic drugs to assist Vanuatu’s fight against scabies, an infection caused by mites and spread through skin contact, that can lead to sores and scaly skin, as well as heart disease and death.

Vanuatu has completed the first phase of its scabies treatment plan across one-third of its provinces — successfully treating over 8% of its population and making the country a model for scabies eradication in the Pacific region.

Pacific Island communities are more susceptible to scabies, given the climate and limited access to treatment. In October 2022, USAID and the World Scabies Program supported Fiji in launching its drug treatment campaign against the disease, which the WHO designated an NTD in 2017.

Health care worker sitting at desk demonstrating something as children standing next to him watch his hands (USAID/Shea Flynn)
Children interact with a health care specialist during a routine screening visit. (USAID/Shea Flynn)

Soil-transmitted helminths

USAID, the WHO and Vanuatu also screen for soil-transmitted helminths — intestinal worms spread through unwashed or undercooked food grown in contaminated soil.

The partnership also delivers antiparasitic drugs to Vanuatu’s communities that are most in need. Since 2021, USAID has treated over 23,000 individuals for intestinal worms, which can cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and physical or cognitive disabilities.

Health care worker with headlamp and magnifier examining child as other children stand near her (USAID/Shea Flynn)
A health care specialist performs a screening test for neglected tropical diseases on children in the Solomon Islands. (USAID/Shea Flynn)


USAID also has conducted skin screenings to help Vanuatu stop the spread of yaws. The bacterial infection, which primarily affects children, is endemic to the Pacific Islands, where a humid climate and limited access to health services make the NTD more prevalent.

Spread through contact with open wounds, yaws can cause painful bumps or lesions, as well as swelling of the bones and fingers, and can be impairing and disfiguring. USAID’s partnerships have protected nearly 5,000 people against the disease.

A version of this article was previously published by USAID. Read the full USAID version here.