Leishmaniasis – A skin disease with no vaccine targeting children in our tribal areas

The rare skin disease caused by a sand fly is on rise in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


Rare skin disease with the scientific name ‘Leishmaniasis’ is primarily caused by parasites of Leishmania type. It is spread by being bitten by a certain type of sand flies.

As per initial reports, at least 21,000 people have fallen prey to the painful disease in the province during a course of one year. As the Health Line website and Doctors Without Borders call it, Leishmaniasis is ”one of the most dangerous and neglected tropical disease”.

It is caused by a parasite that is typically found in infected sand flies. The infected flies inhabit tropical and sub-tropical environments. In the past, South America, East Africa and some parts of Asia have witnessed the outbreak of this disease. Among the seven tribal areas, Khyber is so far the most affected district, reflected by the number of reported cases.

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The figures for Khyber alone stand at 9378 so far. Mohmand is the second most affected area where 5737 cases were registered.  South Waziristan and North Waziristan have also been hit by the skin condition, as 354 and 443 cases have been reported respectively. 225 people in Kurram Agency, while 163 in Orakzai were tested positive. Similarly, many patients in the other ten districts have also suffered. The provincial government and health department is working collaboratively to address the crisis.

Signs of the disease:

Doctors say that the sand fly carrying the parasite of the disease has travelled from Afghanistan and have advised the people to keep their environment clean. Speaking of signs, sand fly looks like a regular mosquito but inserts venom with a sting in the human skin. It takes about 2 to 4 months before inflammation starts. The initial signs include patient’s skin getting frequently dry while no cream or lotion helping it.

Speaking to a local news channel, a dermatologist named Dr Irfan said that the disease starts with minor, painless red acne but the condition severes later on.

“The disease starts with minor and painless red acne, the acne seems harmless initially. But it continues to spread.” – Dr Irfan said. 

The doctors usually recommend an antibiotic injection that is to be administered once or twice a day. The treatment is three weeks long. However, no immunity vaccine is available at the moment.

“The vaccine is not available in the market. The ones which we have demanded from the World Health Organization is Rs600 per vial” – said Dr Shaheen, a spokesperson of the health department.

The three types of the disease are: mucocutaneous, visceral leishmaniasis (the most severe one, it is also known as kala-azar) and the most common, cutaneous.

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