As part of an ongoing effort to eliminate tropical diseases, Bangladesh has become the first country to eradicate visceral leishmaniasis.
As part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) plan to eliminate at least one tropical disease in 100 countries by 2030, South Asian nation, Bangladesh has become the first country to eradicate visceral leishmaniasis.
To date, Bangladesh is the 50th nation to achieve this WHO milestone. The eradication of visceral leishmaniasis relied on a collaborative effort between Bangladesh, neighbouring countries, and medical authorities like WHO.
Visceral leishmaniasis – a deadly tropical disease
Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar, meaning ‘black sickness’ or ‘black fever’, is a tropical disease caused by protozoan parasites that attack their host’s liver, spleen, and bone marrow.
The parasites are transmitted by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies, which feed on blood to produce eggs. External factors that exacerbate the disease include poverty, malnutrition, and population mobility.
The disease is most prevalent in Brazil, east Africa, and India. Its symptoms include fever, fatigue, anaemia, weight loss, and severe swelling of the liver and spleen. Visceral leishmaniasis has proven fatal if left untreated in over 95% of cases.
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Bangladesh – the first country in the world to eradicate visceral leishmaniasis
Bangladesh recently became the first nation in the world to eradicate visceral leishmaniasis as a public health problem. This was validated by WHO due to the rate of cases remaining at less than one per 10,000 people over three consecutive years.
WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, congratulated Bangladesh for its efforts, saying, “I salute the great progress made by Bangladesh, in line with WHO guidance, in eliminating visceral leishmaniasis as a public health threat”.
Director of the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), John Reeder, echoed Dr Tedros’s sentiments.
Reeder said, “We congratulate Bangladesh and the many scientists who have contributed to this extraordinary achievement. It has been a phenomenal effort by the national disease control programme”.
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How the disease was eradicated – a collaborative effort
Reeder added, “It has been a phenomenal effort by the national disease control programme, and we are proud to have worked alongside them to achieve this landmark goal”, highlighting the collaborative nature of the project.
Indeed, the programme began in 2005, when Bangladesh launched the Regional Kala-azar Elimination Initiative along with neighbouring nations India and Nepal, with a focus on early diagnosis, effective disease surveillance, and operational research.
As alluded to by Reeder, TDR, along with WHO and other benefactors, financed and co-ordinated the programme. They invested in detection tools (rK39 rapid immunochromatographic test) and treatment options (miltefosine and liposomal amphotericin B).
As a result, new cases of visceral leishmaniasis in the region fell by 95% over the past ten years. In 2022, the area reported 1069 cases – the lowest number historically – with Bangladesh accounting for just 47 of those.
WHO reports that “Bangladesh will focus on effective surveillance to sustain its hard-won status”.
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