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Improved Treatment Developed for 'Black Fever' - 2002-06-17


The World Health Organization has announced a new treatment for leishmaniasis, popularly known as black fever, that it says is 95 percent effective. The illness affects about 12 million people, mainly in developing countries.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that kills 60,000 people each year. It is spread by the bite of a tiny sandfly. Though the illness can take many forms, Doctors say the most dangerous is visceral leishmaniasis, which attacks a person's liver and spleen and is fatal without treatment.

The World Health Organization's Philippe Desjeux says leishmaniasis can be treated with a new drug called miltefosine. "We are particularly proud to have this new drug now coming," he commented, "because as I mentioned before, people are poor. They need for the first time an oral drug because before the treatments were either toxic, either too long or injectable. The last point is that we are seeing progressively an increase in the resistance to the traditional drug, the first-line drug, that we were for all these reasons desperate to have a new drug in the market."

So far, India is the only country to license the new drug, but the German pharmaceutical company Zentaris says countries in Europe and other areas will also be considering licensing agreements.

Half of all cases of leishmaniasis occur in India. A high rate of the disease also is reported in Bangladesh, Brazil, Nepal and Sudan.

The WHO says the new treatment for the disease will be cheaper than existing drugs. It says one course of the new medicine which should ensur a cure, will cost $50-100. The older treatment cost $400-$500 and required a hospital stay.

Dr. Desjeux says the World Health Organization also is concerned about the increasing frequency of HIV/AIDS and leishmaniasis occurring together. "We have observed during the last five years an increase of this disease due to fact that more and more people were able to get both diseases together - HIV/AIDS and leishmaniasis - because the HIV pandemic is spreading from cities to rural areas, and visceral leishmaniasis is doing exactly the contrary, from rural to urban," he said. "That creates a strong and frequent overlap between the two diseases."

The World Health Organization says the interaction between the two diseases makes each more destructive, accelerating the onset of AIDS and shortening the life expectancy of people infected with HIV.

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