Lancet Examines Leishmaniasis In East Africa

A Lancet world report examines the growing threat of visceral leishmaniasis on populations in eastern Africa. Each year, the parasitic disease affects around 500,000 people worldwide, killing roughly 50,000. Though “[t]wo-thirds of [leishmaniasis] patients are in southeast Asia … the second largest foci is east Africa: perhaps as many as 40,000 cases every year, and incidence is on the rise,” according to the article.  The report explores the difficulty monitoring visceral leishmaniasis due to poor diagnostics and data surveillance, a surge in leishmania/HIV coinfection in Ethiopia and the Sudan, the shortcomings of the therapies available to treat visceral leishmaniasis, as well as future efforts to control the spread of the disease.

According to the article, “The Spanish Government funds interventions in east Africa, and the World Bank is active in southeast Asia. But other agencies have not been as forthcoming.” Though fighting the disease is “not necessarily a question of money,” says François Chappuis of Medicines Sans Frontiers, adding that “the ministries of health just don’t pay attention to these diseases, especially if they occur in remote areas.”

At the end of next  year, the WHO’s Jorge Alvar “aims to have established the global strategy for leishmaniasis” that “will encompass a technical report, accurate epidemiological information, regional strategies—vital for a transborder problem in which epidemiology and ecology vary from place-to-place—and updated information about drug administration. He hopes that as the strategy starts to come together, international funders will become involved in fighting this most neglected of diseases,” the article says (Burki, 8/1).

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