The World Health Organization is appealing for more than $1 million in emergency aid to treat a major Afghan outbreak of leishmaniasis, a disfiguring, contagious parasitic disease. An estimated 270,000 people in Afghanistan have already been affected by the disease and officials fear the outbreak could spread without quick intervention.
The World Health Organization calls Kabul a perfect breeding ground for leishmaniasis. The parasitic disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected female sandfly and is most common in areas beset by war, poverty, unsanitary conditions, and lack of proper health care.
The director of WHO's leishmaniasis program, Philippe Desjeux, says an estimated 300,000 refugees are expected to return to the Kabul area from Pakistan. And, he says the epidemic is likely to extend to these people if a massive treatment program does not quickly get under way.
"Refugees are particularly vulnerable because these people come from areas where the disease did not occur and they are going back to an area where the [transmitting agent] is and they are, as we call it, non-immune, not protected," Mr. Desjeux said. "They can get very easily the disease. That is why we saw in some areas of Kabul 100 percent of people getting the disease."
The particular form of leishmaniasis in Afghanistan is not fatal, but it can be horribly disfiguring. People who get it are stigmatized and often excluded from their families. Mr. Desjeux said the scarring is permanent, but the disease itself can be treated so that it does not spread to healthy people.
"We are offering an opportunity having a massive intervention with massive treatment, large-scale treatment," Mr. Desjeux said. "We are requesting this money for drugs and for bednets, insecticide impregnated bednets. We want to treat the people, the ongoing cases and at the same time to prevent healthy people to get the disease sleeping under these bednets."
Mr. Desjeux says WHO also is concerned about possible large-scale outbreaks of leishmaniasis in other large Afghan cities, notably Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif.