Kenya launches guidelines to cut deaths from leishmaniasis disease

KENYA – Ministry of Health and its stakeholders have launched a plan to eliminate Leishmaniasis disease by 2025. They have released guidelines to help reduce deaths from the parasitic disease visceral leishmaniasis, or kala-azar.

Kenya currently hosts about 95% of the infections. The disease affects vital organs like the skin. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is found in parts of the tropics, subtropics, and southern Europe.

It is classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTD). Leishmaniasis is caused by infection with Leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of phlebotomine sand flies.

Rashid Aman, chief administrative secretary in the Ministry of Health revealed that five million Kenyans, mainly children aged 5-14 years are at risk of the disease, mostly in nine Arid and Semi Arid parts of the country (ASAL).

“We have plans to reduce deaths from the disease since if left untreated, 95 percent of people with kala-azar risk to die,” Aman said during the launch of a strategic plan that envisions the elimination of the disease by the year 2025.

He said that 607 cases of visceral leishmaniasis, parasites which are spread by the bite of sand flies, were reported in 2018, while 1,463 and 1, 211 respectively were reported in the year 2019 and 2020.

He added that by the end of 2025 people living in endemic areas will be relieved of the burden and suffering brought about by the diseases that will eventually lead to improved economic productivity and improved health.

According to the Ministry of Health data, approximately 2,500 people are infected with the disease annually.

Aman said that the strategic plan will guide management of leishmaniasis with a focus on disease ecology and mapping case identification.

He added that the plan will also guide the government and all partners in controlling the disease and work towards its elimination as a public health problem.

Leishmaniasis has several different forms. Visceral leishmaniasis is the most serious manifestation, which affects some of the internal organs of the body such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow.

Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), also known as kala-azar is fatal if left untreated in over 95% of cases.

Most cases occur in Brazil, East Africa and in India. An estimated 50 000 to 90 000 new cases of VL occur worldwide annually, with only between 25 to 45% reported to WHO.

It remains one of the top parasitic diseases with outbreak and mortality potential. In 2019, more than 90% of new cases reported to WHO occurred in 10 countries: Brazil, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Iraq, Kenya, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

WHO has been supporting national leishmaniasis control programmes technically and financially to produce updated guidelines and make disease control plans, including sustainable, effective surveillance systems, and epidemic preparedness and response systems.

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