Data needed on people infected with visceral leishmaniasis: call for expansion of working database

TDR news item
9 May 2011

Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), also known as kala azar or Black Fever, infects an estimated 500 000 people a year, and kills approximately 51 000. The question is, who is getting the disease? The lack of basic data on who is affected by VL makes it difficult for health care providers to plan and manage care, account for other factors that affect it, design new therapies, or even know how much of a drug to prescribe.

New research, led by TDR and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), seeks to answer this question in a new study: “Who Is a Typical Patient with Visceral Leishmaniasis? Characterizing the Demographic and Nutritional Profile of Patients in Brazil, East Africa, and South Asia”.1 Published in the April issue of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the research gathered anthropometric data (age, gender, weight, and height) from nearly 30,000 patients in 20 clinics in endemic areas in Brazil, India, Sudan, and the Ugandan-Kenya border. Most cases of the disease occur in these countries, along with Bangladesh and Nepal.

The findings of the study indicate substantial heterogeneity in the types of patients affected by the disease, suggesting that distinct strategies may be called for in each geographic setting. The authors want to expand this working database, and are looking for additional collaboration on this.

VL is a parasitic disease that results in painful symptoms, organ damage, impedes long-term physical and cognitive development, and without care, is usually fatal. The disease causes high fever, substantial weight loss, swelling of the spleen and liver, and anaemia. VL, which is transmitted by the bite of sandflies, overwhelmingly affects poor people, and is a leading cause of illness in these communities.

While researchers know that VL often occurs among people who are malnourished, they are still trying to discover which one is the result of the other. Either way, malnutrition plus VL means that patients often fair poorly, even when they do receive treatment.

Improving the epidemiological data on malnutrition and other crucial factors should help improve the care for those afflicted with the disease. The research recommends that in VL endemic areas, preventative nutritional programmes for the general population and supplementary feeding interventions for VL patients be put in place.

For more information on data collaborations, contact Dr Piero Olliaro,

Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg., 84(4), 2011, pp. 543–550


Copyright © 2011 by The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene