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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - New Leishmaniasis Drug

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Doctors from the United States and Saudi Arabia have discovered a new treatment for the form of leishmaniasis (LEASH-ma-NIGH-a-sis) disease that affects the skin. Currently, the World Health Organization estimates that twelve-million people are infected with the disease. In addition, at least three-hundred-fifty-million people in eighty-eight countries may be at risk of being infected.

Leishmaniasis is caused by tiny organisms called parasites. Small insects called sandflies spread the disease.

Graphic Image
Graphic Image

There are two major forms of leishmaniasis. The most severe form of the disease affects organs in the body. It causes death if not treated quickly. Another kind of leishmaniasis is called cutaneous, or skin-related. It causes serious wounds on the face, arms and legs. Skin-related forms of leishmaniasis are the most common and represent up to seventy-five percent of all new cases.

A new study about treating the disease was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Saudi and American doctors found that the drug fluconazole (floo-KAHN-uh-zol) can be used to treat cutaneous leishmaniasis. Fluconazole is used to treat other skin diseases.

James Maguire is an expert on parasite diseases at the United States Centers for Disease Control. He took part in the latest study. It tested fluconazole on more than one-hundred patients in Saudi Arabia. One group of patients was given the drug every day for six weeks. The other group was given an inactive substance.

The doctors found that almost eighty percent of the patients taking fluconazole were completely healed. About thirty-four percent of the people not taking the drug also were healed. The doctors also discovered that patients experienced fewer side effects from fluconazole compared to older drugs used to treat leishmaniasis.

The doctors say the drug is effective against the most common form of cutaneous leishmaniasis in the Middle East and parts of Africa. However, they say it does not work well on the kind of the disease found in South Asia and South America. The drug also costs a lot of money. Doctor Maguire says countries should provide fluconazole for free or at a reduced cost to patients who need it.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss.

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