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5 countries to work together to fight kala-azar

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Staff Reporter
Health Ministers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Thailand at a conference in Dhaka on Tuesday pledged to work together to fight kala-azar (Visceral Leishmaniasis ) as over 147 million people of the Southeast Asia region are vulnerable to the disease.
Bangladesh Health Minister Mohammed Nasim, Bhutanese Health Minister Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk, Indian Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Nepalese Health Minister Khaga Raj Adhikari and Thailand Inspector-General of Public Health Dr Suriya Wongkongkathep signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) today to help each other in eliminating kala-azar from their countries.
The signing ceremony was held at city’s Hotel Sonargaon on the sidelines of the 32nd Meeting of Health Ministers of WHO’s South-East Asia Region that began here earlier in the day.
Over 147 million people in the South-East Asia Region are at risk of contracting life-threatening kala-azar, mainly in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, with recent, sporadic cases being reported from Bhutan and Thailand as well.
As over 50 percent of the cases in the three main affected countries occur in areas close to international borders, the countries also need close collaboration to control and eliminate this disease in addition to their strong national efforts.
The areas for collaboration among the five countries will include mutually agreed mechanisms of resource mobilisation; exchange of information; inter-sectoral collaboration; research; capacity building and technical support.
Kala-azar is debilitating and often fatal if left untreated. It is transmitted by sandflies which breed in moist soil, caves, cracks in mud walls and rodent burrows. The poorest of the poor, particularly the communities living in remote, rural areas are most vulnerable to this disease. Associated with malnutrition, poor housing and illiteracy, kala-azar prolongs the cycle of poverty as people cannot afford treatment and therefore cannot work.
Elimination of kala-azar means reducing the cases to a level where it is no longer a public health problem. The target is to achieve less than one kala-azar case per 10,000 population annually, at the district or sub-district level.
“Kala-azar elimination is within our reach and WHO is committed to it,” said WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
“We now have field-friendly diagnostic tools and effective medicines for its treatment. WHO has negotiated for an assured free supply of the treatment drug to endemic countries till end-2016, with a likelihood of this arrangement being extended for another five years,” she added.
The elimination strategy will include access to early diagnosis and treatment, particularly of the most vulnerable populations together with stronger disease and vector surveillance and integrated vector management with emphasis on improvement of the environment, social mobilization, research and networking.
Elimination of kala-azar will contribute to mitigation of poverty and strengthen health and development efforts in the affected countries.