India’s Crusade Against Kala Azar

Months after an initial infection, leishmaniasis can progress into a more severe form, called visceral leishmaniasis or, kala azar.

New Delhi: India eliminated visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala azar, in over 80 per cent of its sub-districts in 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

Kala azar is the second largest parasitic killer in the world and is caused by bites from female phlebotomine sandflies. The sand flies feed on animals and humans for blood, which they need for developing their eggs.

Months after this initial infection the disease can progress into a more severe form, called visceral leishmaniasis or, kala azar which affects the immune system. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

The global health body said that an estimated 1 billion people received treatment in 2015 alone for neglected tropical diseases.

More than 100 million people need treatment and care in India, Indonesia and Nigeria, which together account for 47 per cent of the total.

The World Health Organisation, in its new report ‘Integrating Neglected Tropical Diseases in Global Health and Development’ said, “In 2015, the target for the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis was achieved in 82 per cent of sub-districts in India.”

It also noted that protection from financial risk is important for the people bearing the maximum burden of non-tropical diseases.

“The medical poverty trap affects people in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sudan, where 25–75 per cent of households are affected by Kala Azar,” it said.

The diagnosis and treatment have not reached due to some financial constraints, even when tests and medicines are provided free of charge, it noted.

The report said that in 2015, yaws was confirmed as having been eliminated in India by a WHO-led international verification team and India has made significant progress and discontinued Mass Drug Administration in 72 districts.

The report said that in 2015, 960 million of the 1.59 billion people requiring mass or individual treatment and care for non-tropical diseases were living in lower-middle rather than low-income countries.

“Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria have the highest prevalence of non-tropical diseases,” the report said.

(With Inputs From Press Trust of India)