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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – September 3, 2001: Leishmaniasis Disease - 2001-08-31

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Health experts are growing concerned about the rise in leishmaniasis (LEASH-ma-NIGH-a-sis) disease around the world. Currently, the World Health Organization estimates twelve-million people are infected with the disease. However, experts say that number is low because leishmaniasis has spread during the past ten years. They say that three-hundred-fifty million people in eighty-eight countries may be at risk of being infected. Leishmaniasis is caused by tiny organisms called parasites. Small insects called sand flies spread the disease.

Barbara Herwaldt is a health expert at the Centers for Disease Control in the United States. She says there are two major forms of leishmaniasis. The visceral form affects organs in the body. It can cause death if not treated quickly. Signs of visceral leishmaniasis include high body temperature, weight loss, a swelling of the liver and spleen and blood problems.

Another kind of leishmaniasis is called cutaneous, or skin-related. It causes serious wounds on the face, arms and legs.

Although leishmaniasis is found in almost ninety countries, the majority of cases are in just a few countries. Most victims of visceral leishmaniasis are in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal and Sudan. The majority of skin-related cases are in Afghanistan, Brazil, Iran, Peru, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Health experts say public knowledge of leishmaniasis has been lacking. In addition, only thirty-two countries affected by the disease currently report their cases. Health experts believe only six-hundred-thousand cases are officially reported of an estimated two-million new cases each year.

The ability to treat leishmaniasis differs around the world. Tests to identify the disease may be difficult to perform. Health experts are also concerned about a lack of money for treatments. Because of these problems, they say researchers need to develop a vaccine medicine to prevent the disease. Experts say a vaccine is becoming even more urgent as AIDS and H-I-V cases increase around the world. They say leishmaniasis increases the rate at which AIDS develops. And the number of people with both diseases is increasing in many areas of the world.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.