Bangladesh Becomes World’s First Country to Eliminate Visceral Leishmaniasis
WHO-SEARO 76th Regional Committee Session in New Delhi
WHO-SEARO Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh at the 76th Regional Committee Session in New Delhi, meeting this week in Delhi, where she announced that Bangladesh has become the world’s first country to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis or kala azar.

Bangladesh has become the first country globally to be validated by the World Health Organization for the elimination of visceral leishmaniasis or kala azar, as a public health problem.

VL, a life-threatening neglected tropical disease (NTD) caused by a parasite transmitted by sandflies,  affects some one million people worldwide every year, mostly in Southeast Asia and North Africa.

Bangladesh, India, and Nepal accounted for 70% of the global cases between 2004 and 2008. By 2016, Bangladesh and Nepal brought down the number of cases drastically while the burden in India remains relatively high. While death rates are relatively low, disfigurement of limbs, sexual organs, etc. create huge levels of disability among those untreated.

However, new diagnostics and tools have helped make big inroads in morbidity.

The country achieved the elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 population at the sub-district level in 2017. It has managed to sustain that progress despite the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the WHO elimination milestone, said WHO Regional Director Poonam Khetrapal Singh speaking at the SEARO Regional Committee meeting ongoing in Delhi this week, where the achievement was announced. .

At the meeting the global health agency also noted that the DPR Korea has eliminated rubella and Maldives has interrupted transmission of leprosy – another NTD.

Maldives has not reported a leprosy case for more than five years now, WHO said, making it the first country in the world to officially verify interruption of transmission, through a concerted effort to reduce stigma and discrimination so that people infected could be diagnosed, treated and cured.

NTDs are a diverse group of 20 tropical infections that are common in low-income regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. They are also often under-researched and ignored by the research community and pharmaceutical companies. WHO’s NTD Roadmap aims to reduce by 90% the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs by 2030.

“Neglected tropical diseases like lymphatic filariasis, visceral leishmaniasis and leprosy, along with the threat to children and young people posed by rubella, require continued national leadership, commitment and collaborative action by countries and health partners worldwide,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a WHO statement. “These achievements will positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable populations now and in the future,” he added.

Image Credits: WHO.

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