Leishmaniasis outbreak rings alarm bells at Turkish-Syrian border

March 27, 2013, Wednesday/ 16:55:00

Approximately 100,000 people have been infected with the leishmaniasis parasitic disease in the past two years after civil war broke out in Syria, compared with before the conflict when the number of cases in Syria had been reduced to 3,000-4,000 as a result of joint efforts by Turkish and Syrian authorities.  

The increase in the number of patients suffering from the disease is alarming not only for Syria but for Turkey as well since leishmaniasis has also reached Turkey. Opposition forces who have been leading an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's rule have asked Turkey to deliver 10,000 boxes of Glucantin -- a medicine used to treat leishmaniasis -- which amounts to one month's  treatment of 20,000 people. However, there has been no positive response from the Turkish side yet. Fake Glucantin is being produced and sold for 50 percent less than the normal price for the medicine in Aleppo.

Dr. Kerem Kınık, coordinator of the Association of Earth Doctors, told Today's Zaman that his organization has been working to help the Syrians fight the disease. “We'll provide assistance to fight the disease, starting with sending medicine. This step is also important to protect our country [Turkey] from the disease,” he said.

The number of doctors in Syria has dropped dramatically from 30,000 to 5,000, and 57 percent of the hospitals have been damaged in the conflict, according to Kınık.

Before the civil war in Syria, the number of leshmaniasis patients had been reduced to a great extent after studies carried out in 45 centers in 14 provinces across the nation. After a Syrian health official fled to Canada following the start of the conflict in the country, the battle against the disease was halted. Experts argue that the nation also faces typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics. Turkey imports leshmaniasis medicine via the Turkish Pharmacists' Association (TEB). TEB Secretary General Harun Kızılay told Today's Zaman that Turkey could bring the drugs to combat the disease for Syrians should the Turkish Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) submit a request at the Health Ministry.

Professor Fatih Köksal, from Çukurova University's department of microbiology and clinical microbiology, said leishmania infantum, a parasite that causes leshmaniasis, has been more common in Turkey in the recent years. “There was one case each in 2005 and 2010. But now 30 out of every 100 cases are caused by this. Measures need to be taken,” he urged.

Köksal said he visited the buffer zone between the Cilvegözü and Bab al-Hawa border gates and observed that the poor conditions there that might lead to other epidemics. “The passage of people [from Syria] to Turkey have increased the frequency of diseases in Turkey.”

The symptoms of leshmaniasis are skin sores, fever and anemia and may result in spleen and liver problems. The disease can be fatal if not treated. The disease is transmitted by certain species of sandfly and later passes on to humans from animals including dogs.

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