Leishmaniasis is caused by parasitic protozoa of the genus Leishmania. Humans are infected via the bite of phlebotomine sandflies, which breed in forest areas, caves, or the burrows of small rodents. There are four main types of the disease:
- In cutaneous forms, skin ulcers usually form on exposed areas, such as the face, arms and legs. These usually heal within a few months, leaving scars.
- Diffuse cutaneous leishmaniasis produces disseminated and chronic skin lesions resembling those of lepromatous leprosy. It is difficult to treat.
- In mucocutaneous forms, the lesions can partially or totally destroy the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat cavities and surrounding tissues.
- Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala azar, is characterized by high fever, substantial weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anaemia. If left untreated, the disease can have a fatality rate as high as 100% within two years.
In the last 5-6 years WHO collaborative support for communicable diseases has been substantial and covers wide range of activities, including assessments, situation analysis, support for development of policies, guidelines, strategies and operational plans of action. A high priority was accorded to assist in strengthening the national immunization, disease surveillance, outbreak preparedness and response, laboratory upgrading and disease prevention and control. The collaborative activities have a special focus on leishmaniasis control including many communicable diseases.
The incidence of Visceral Leishmaniasis has been reduced from 3218 in 2004 to 1549 in 2009. Even though, there has been some fluctuation in some years but downward trend has been achieved. The reduction in the incidence of both malaria and Leishmaniasis is attributed to the comprehensive package of prevention and control activities conducted by the Iraqi Ministry of Health with technical and logistics support from WHO.
Since years, WHO Iraq is providing technical and logistic support to reduce the incidence of leishmania in Iraq including the following
- Early diagnosis and response
- Spraying and fogging campaigns
- Provision of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets;
- Training inside and outside Iraq
- Entomological surveillance
- Rodent control activities
- Community awareness