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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 17:13 GMT
Deadly skin disease spreads in Pakistan
Afghan refugees build makeshift accommodation in a refugee camp in Pakistan
Thousands of Afghans have fled war and drought
Hundreds of Pakistanis have contracted a disfiguring and potentially fatal skin disease which has spread from Afghan refugees in the country, the World Health Organisation has warned.


Urgent remedial measures are needed to contain the disease

World Health Organisation
Over 700 cases of leishmaniasis have been reported among the local population in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan and has become home to thousands of Afghan refugees who have fled war and drought.

The WHO said most of the incidents among Pakistanis have been discovered in children under the age of 15.

Around 1,500 Afghan refugees have already been struck down by the disease, which causes "flesh-eating" nose, throat and mouth infections, skin lesions, or even fatal infestations of the internal organs. It is transmitted by female mosquitoes.

It leaves permanent scarring which socially stigmatises many of those who contract the disease.

Containment

The WHO said at least two-thirds of those suffering from the disease in Pakistan are unable to get medical treatment and that the situation is further complicated by the fact that many local doctors cannot distinguish between leishmaniasis and other skin diseases.

mosquito
Insecticide can help prevent the spread
The disease can be completely cured if it is discovered in time, using injections of Glucantime, but the drug is currently not commercially available in Pakistan.

The agency has requested supplies of Glucantime be flown into the region, and has stressed the use of preventative measures such as mosquito-eliminating agents and insecticide.

But it has warned that unless living conditions and sanitation substantially improve, the outbreak will prove difficult to contain in the long term.

Leishmaniasis is currently endemic in 88 countries across five continents.

It is estimated that 12 million people worldwide are suffering from the disease.

See also:

05 Dec 01 | South Asia
UN pleas for Afghan refugees
03 Dec 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan refugee misery
06 Aug 01 | Health
Vaccine from sand fly spit
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