Leishmaniasis is caused by a parasite transmitted to humans by the bite of infected female phlebotomine sandflies.
There are 3 main types of leishmaniasis – visceral (often known as kala-azar and the most serious form of the disease), cutaneous (the most common) and mucocutaneous.
During the past 10 years, the disease has spread considerably. Around 1.3 million people are newly infected with leishmaniasis and around 30 000 people die from it every year.
Leishmaniases are found in the Americas, South-East Asia, East Africa, West Asia, Central Asia and the Mediterranean region. The disease affects the poorest people in the community, and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, weak immune systems and lack of resources. Its spread is linked to migration and environmental changes such as deforestation, building of dams, irrigation schemes and urbanization.
Depending on the types of leishmaniasis, the disease can cause fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, anaemia, rashes and skin ulcers.
Leishmaniasis is treatable and curable. Early diagnosis and treatment reduces the spread of the disease and can prevent disabilities and death. Prevention and control of leishmaniasis require a combination of strategies including control of sandflies and their animal hosts (including dogs and cattle), improving living conditions and personal protection against sandfly bites.