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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Working Together to Stop Kala-azar

August 24, 2014

Thanks to the work of great organizations like Comic Relief, Malaria No More, and Nothing But Nets, people around the world know about the terrible toll that malaria takes on communities in developing countries. But there is another insect-borne disease that affects more than a million people each year and gets virtually no attention beyond the half dozen countries where it’s prevalent. It’s called visceral leishmaniasis or VL.

VL is transmitted by insects – in this case, sand flies – that live in and around people’s homes and bite families at night. This means VL can be effectively controlled by working with affected communities to spray the walls of their homes with a safe, long-acting insecticide. This indoor residual spraying (IRS) interrupts transmission and allows local health facilities to eliminate the disease entirely by curing active cases.

The Gates Foundation is currently working in partnership with national, state, and local authorities in India to eliminate VL, which is known locally as kala-azar, from affected districts in Bihar and Jharkand. Together, these two Indian states account for a huge proportion of the global burden of VL, and eliminating the disease in the lowland regions of the Ganges River basin could save thousands of lives each year and protect millions of Indians who live at risk of infection. This is critically important because, if left untreated, VL is a debilitating and inevitably fatal disease. 

We’re excited by the progress that has been made this year. A total of 4.5 million homes in Bihar and Jharkand have already been sprayed. To put that in perspective, that's roughly equivalent to the total number of homes in Ohio, one of America’s most populous states.

The foundation applauds the commitment that authorities at every level of government have shown toward the goal of eliminating VL from India. Efforts to coordinate the delivery of the right supplies, mobilize community healthcare workers, and ensure the timely identification and treatment of active VL cases is having a tremendous impact and creating optimism that VL elimination can be achieved quickly in the next few years. This work is a great example of what can be done when partners work together to tackle health challenges.

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