How Kenya is Fighting Back Against a Neglected but Deadly Leishmaniasis Disease

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by the bite of infected sandflies, tiny insects that feed on human blood in crowded living conditions [1]. The most severe and life-threatening form of leishmaniasis is visceral leishmaniasis (VL), also known as kala-azar, which attacks the internal organs, such as the spleen and liver, and causes symptoms such as fever, weight loss, anemia, and swelling of the abdomen [1]. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 50,000 ~ 90,000 new cases of visceral leishmaniasis occur worldwide every year [1]. Without timely diagnosis and surveillance, VL can be fatal.

How Kenya is Fighting Back Against a Neglected but Deadly Leishmaniasis Disease
Kenya is one of the countries that is endemic for VL with reported 2,037 VL cases and 10 deaths since 2020.

Why is Kenya at risk of VL?

Kenya is one of the countries that is endemic for VL with reported 2,037 VL cases and 10 deaths since 2020, mainly from the northern and eastern regions of the country, such as Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa, and Baringo [2]. These regions are characterized by arid and semi-arid climates, where sandflies thrive and people are exposed to their bites [2]. This suggests that the environmental factors play a crucial role in the transmission and spread of VL in Kenya.

In addition, there are several reasons why VL is a persistent and neglected problem in Kenya, such as environmental changes [2], population movements [2], complications by HIV [1], malnutrition [1], and limited access to health services in lack-of-resource regions [1]. Without such a response, VL will continue to pose a serious threat to the lives and well-being of Kenyans.

How is Kenya responding to the VL outbreak?

The Kenyan government, in collaboration with WHO and other partners, has been working hard to contain the VL outbreak and provide essential health services to the affected communities. Some of the interventions that have been implemented include:

  • Shipping medical supplies from WHO’s global emergency stockpile, such as rapid diagnostic tests, drugs, and personal protective equipment [2]. This is a vital step to ensure timely treatment of VL cases.
  • Creating policies and guidelines based on scientific evidence to prevent and treat leishmaniasis, and providing online training for health workers and others [1]. It’s essential to build the capacity and skills of the health workforce.
  • Raising awareness and educating the public on the signs, symptoms, and prevention [1] – A necessary step in seeking preventative measures and reducing the stigma associated with VL.


How Kenya is Fighting Back Against a Neglected but Deadly Leishmaniasis Disease
Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by the bite of infected sandflies.

What can you do to help fight Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a neglected public health problem that requires coordinated action from governments and communities. By fighting leishmaniasis, we are not only saving lives, but also improving the well-being of people who are currently affected by this disease.

Here are some ways you can contribute to the global effort to eliminate leishmaniasis:

  • Support the work of organizations that are involved in leishmaniasis control and research, such as WHO, Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
  • Protect yourself and your family from leishmaniasis if you live in or travel to endemic areas.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you develop symptoms of leishmaniasis. Early diagnosis and treatment can save your life and prevent the spread of the disease.
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[1] World Health Organization: WHO. (2023a, January 12). Leishmaniasis. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/leishmaniasis
[2] Mewara, A., Gudisa, R., Padhi, B. K., Kumar, P., Sah, R., & Rodriguez-Morales, A. J. (2022). Visceral leishmaniasis outbreak in Kenya-a setback to the elimination efforts. New microbes and new infections, 49-50, 101060. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nmni.2022.101060

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