East Africa is fighting the worst kala azar outbreak in a decade. Kala azar is another name given to visceral leishmaniasis (VL), a parasitic disease endemic in around 70 countries worldwide. South Sudan has the second highest number of cases after India. The disease is spread through the bite of a sandfly and is fatal without treatment. Approximately half a million people are infected with the disease and 50,000-60,000 die every year as a result of the infection. Patients suffer from irregular bouts of fever, substantial weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anemia. Collaboration across the East Africa region through the Leishmaniasis East Africa Platform (LEAP) has resulted in the development of a new combination therapy (SSG&PM) which is cheaper and nearly halves the length of treatment from a 30-day course of injections to 17 days. East African endemic countries are taking the necessary regulatory measures to use it in their programmes, but experts warn that without international funding or interest in supporting governments in the roll out, too few patients will benefit. “The poorest of the poor, in the most remote villages are the ones who are wasting away from kala azar and who could benefit the most from a shorter more affordable treatment,” said Dr. Monique Wasunna, Assistant Director, KEMRI, and Head, DNDi Africa. “Neglected diseases and patients mean that even when there are new treatments and hope, they are too far from the headlines and donor priorities to get support to governments.
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