The number of patients infected by leishmaniasis has increased rapidly in Khyber Agency, with nearly 1,300 cases reported in two months. Authorities fear the number of leishmaniasis cases may increase further if proper steps to control the infection are not taken.
Khyber Agency surgeon Dr Samin Shinwari told The Express Tribune, “We have registered 1,085 cases in Landi Kotal, 60 in Jamrud and 155 in Bara. There might be some cases in Tirah valley as well, but we cannot report them because vaccination teams cannot visit the area.”
He added that around 700 patients had been treated so far, while over 100 injections were administered to patients whose condition was not severe. Patients having tumours on any part of the body from the disease were treated with thermotherapy. Treatment can take up to one month depending on the severity of the case.
“The increase in the number of patients has compelled us to start a special programme for treatment. We have trained doctors and paramedics for this purpose and brought more medicines and equipment to cope with the situation,” Shinwari said.
Replying to a question about the patients stranded in Tirah, he said they have received information about infected children there, but the exact number cannot be confirmed.
Vaccination teams cannot be sent there due to the deteriorating law and order but residents have been informed to go to nearby hospitals of any subdivision if they contract the disease.
Fata Health Services Director Dr Fawad Khan said Khyber, Orakzai, Bajaur and South Waziristan have been affected by leishmaniasis for the past 10 years.
“I am not aware of the recent increase in the number of cases in Khyber Agency, but we have provided all facilities to the agency surgeon and he has the authority to take any initiatives he considers necessary,” Khan said.
The disease is caused by the bite of sand flies that breed in forest areas, caves, or the burrows of small rodents. Wild and domesticated animals, and humans themselves can act as a reservoir of infection.
Symptoms of leishmaniasis include fever, malaise, weight loss, anaemia and swelling of the spleen, liver and lymph nodes. Infection can be prevented by avoidance of sand fly bites through the use of repellents or insecticides.
Leishmaniasis is endemic in 88 countries. There are 1–1.5 million cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis reported yearly worldwide, according to the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2013.