Hajipur, Bihar, 15 March 2013 — International medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) together with the Bihar State’s Ministry of Health has organised several activities for the public throughout Vaishali District to mark the second annual Kala Azar Day. In 2012, Bihar state declared 15 March as ‘Kala Azar Day’ in order to focus much-needed attention on this neglected disease, and emphasise the government’s commitment to the elimination of Kala Azar. On this occasion activities have been organised with the aim of increasing awareness of Kala Azar, as well as facilitating access to proper diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from the disease.
Kala Azar (visceral leishmaniasis) disproportionately affects the poorest, most vulnerable communities in Bihar because it is transmitted by the bite of a sand fly, an insect that thrives in rural environments. Kala Azar, if left untreated, is almost always fatal. According to the Executive Director of State Health Society-Bihar, Mr Sanjay Kumar, “Kala Azar Day is an important annual reminder of this neglected disease which is so prominent in Bihar. It is an important call to action.”
In partnership with the State Health Society-Bihar, MSF has managed a Kala Azar diagnosis and treatment project in Vaishali District since 2007, and has treated more than 10,000 patients free-of-charge within government facilities. This is proof enough that it is possible to diagnose and treat Kala Azar patients even in remote settings. It is essential to increase patient access to proper diagnosis and treatment, to scale up political and financial commitment to roll out current control programmes, while at the same time investing in the development of better tools to fight against the diseases.
“The official state recognition of an annual Kala Azar Day, and the backing that has been given to the Alliance Against Kala Azar from all sectors, indicates that Bihar is taking a step in the right direction towards the elimination of Kala Azar. We hope that this trend will be emulated in the world over, especially in countries where the disease is endemic” says Dr Sakib Burza, MSF’s Medical Coordinator.
Since 2007, when MSF started its Kala Azar project in Vaishali district of Bihar state, L-AmB (liposomal amphotericin B) at a dosage of 20mg/Kg has been used as a first line treatment. However, L-AmB is still very expensive and in order to investigate potential alternative treatments, MSF, in August 2012, partnered with the Bihar State Health Society and DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative) to further empirical research on safer and more effective treatments for Kala Azar in India. This includes possibilities of treating Kala Azar with combination therapies that can also be used worldwide.
Since 1988, MSF has treated more than 100,000 kala azar patients, mainly in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, India and Bangladesh. In Bihar, India, MSF is treating Kala Azar patients with liposomal amphotericin B and is currently working with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to reinforce research and explore safer and more effective treatments for Kala Azar.