India set to eliminate Kala-Azar, Filariasis

Close on the heels of a successful war against Polio, India is set to eliminate Kala-Azar and Filariasis – two diseases that were considered major public health threat even in the 1990s.

As late as 1992, Kala-Azar infected more than 77,000 people and killed 1419 individuals. But it is now restricted to only 195 blocks in four states – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. In 2013, it killed  20 and infected about 14,000 people.

“In 2012, Kala-Azar was a health threat in 587 blocks in 54 districts, out of which elimination – one case per 10,000 population – had been achieved in 392 blocks,” said Dr A C Dhariwal, director of National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme under the Union Health Ministry.

“India’s target is very much achievable. The disease is now found in few pockets,” Dr Nata Menabde, World Health Organisation representative to India told Deccan Herald.

Reported from India since the middle of the 19th century, the disease derived its name Kala-Azar (black disease) because it led to darkening of skin and abdomen. Scientifically, it is called Visceral leishmaniasis. Transmitted by sand flies, the disease is also prevalent in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan.

The second disease in the elimination list is lymphatic filariasis, caused by mosquito bites. There are an estimated 800,000 women with swollen legs (elephantiasis) and 400,000 cases of hydrocele among men in 250 districts in 15 states. “Our target is to reduce the infection rate at less than one per cent in these districts by 2017,” said Dhariwal.

India shares almost 40 per cent of the global disease burden in filariasis, which is found in the eastern and central Indian states as well as along the east coast. Though it does not kill, it is a seriously debilitating and incapacitating disease, which leads to social stigma.

“We need to intensify our efforts to ensure, the elimination strategy is properly executed. We cannot be complacent as there were lapses in the past,” Union Health Secretary Luv Verma said. India has recently eliminated polio as there was no case in the last three years. 

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