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Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Print version ISSN 0042-9686

Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.8 Genebra Aug. 2002

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0042-96862002000800022 

New treatment for leishmaniasis is 95% effective

Miltefosine (Impavido®), a new drug against leishmaniasis, has cured 95% of the patients treated with it in clinical trials. About 60000 people a year die from this parasitic disease, which is also known as kala azar and black fever. Miltefosine, which is likely to cost less than current therapies as well as being more effective and easier to deliver, could save most of these lives. It is the first oral antileishmaniasis drug.

Miltefosine is the result of collaboration between the Government of India, the German biopharmaceutical company, Zentaris, and TDR (Tropical Disease Research), a programme sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and WHO. The new drug has now been approved for use in India, where half the cases of visceral leishmaniasis in the world occur. By using this drug, the Government hopes to eliminate visceral leishmaniasis by 2010.

"The combined efforts of these partners have opened a new era in the fight against visceral leishmaniasis,'' said WHO's Director-General, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland. "In doing so we can free the poor from one of their many burdens.''

Leishmaniasis is one of the "neglected diseases'' which afflict the world's poorest people. About 80% of its victims have less than US$ 2 a day to live on. It is transmitted by the bite of the sandfly. Attacking the liver and spleen, causing fever and weight loss, visceral leishmaniasis is fatal in those with compromised immune function and poor nutrition unless they obtain treatment.