What is Leishmaniasis?

Leishmaniasis is a poverty-associated disease with several different forms:

  • The most deadly, visceral leishmaniasis (VL), is also known as kala-azar, or ‘black fever’. VL causes fever, weight loss, spleen and liver enlargement, and, if not treated, death.
  • Post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL) is a complication of VL and appears as a rash or skin condition months or years after someone has successfully completed treatment for VL. PKDL is not life-threatening but can be a disfi guring and stigmatizing disease.
  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) is the most common form and is characterized by skin lesions that can be severely disfiguring and stigmatizing, particularly for women. In its mucocutaneous form, it can lead to the destruction of the mucosal membranes of the nose, mouth, and throat.



50,000-90,000 new cases of visceral leishmaniasis annually
600,000-1,200,000 new cases of cutaneous leishmaniasis annually
About 20,000-30,000 deaths due to visceral leishmaniasis annually
5-10% of people treated for VL develop PKDL in South Asia, 50-60% of people treated for VL develop PKDL in East Africa
A lack of surveillance systems and frequency of disease in remote areas and marginalized populations means that it is difficult to estimate the true incidence of leishmaniasis and the case-fatality of visceral leishmaniasis.


  • 1 billion people are at risk of leishmaniasis.
  • Visceral leishmaniasis affects poor populations living in remote areas of over 80 countries across Asia, East Africa, South America, and the Mediterranean region.
  • 90% of new visceral leishmaniasis cases occurred in seven countries: Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan
  • The majority of cutaneous leishmaniasis cases occur in six countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, and Syria.


Leishmaniasis is a diverse and complex disease: more than 20 species of the kinetoplastid protozoan parasite Leishmania can be transmitted to humans by some 30 species of phlebotomine sandflies.

Patient treatment needs for visceral leishmaniasis

Patients with visceral leishmaniasis need a treatment which is oral, safe, effective, low cost, and of short course.

Patient treatment needs for cutaneous leishmaniasis

A safe, topical or oral well tolerated, and affordable treatment which could cure the lesions quickly without leaving deep scar and that can be deployed within primary healthcare systems for self-treatment without requiring follow up by health workers.


Visceral leishmaniasis is characterized by prolonged fever, enlarged spleen and liver, substantial weight loss, and progressive anemia. These symptoms occur progressively over a period of weeks or even months. Co-infection with other infectious diseases is an increasing concern: HIV-VL co-infection has been reported in 36 countries worldwide. Almost all clinically symptomatic patients die within months if untreated. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is characterized by disfiguring skin lesions that are sometimes self-healing within months or years, or become chronic. Although cutaneous leishmaniasis is generally not life-threatening, it causes disability and leaves permanent scars that can lead to social prejudice.


DNDi aims to:

  • Make treatments safer, shorter, and more affordable and effective for all forms of leishmaniasis.
  • In the short term, better treatment regiments are being developed using existing drugs.
  • In the long term, the goal is to develop an entirely new generation of all-oral drugs.




Cover page leishmaniasis disease factsheet

Leishmaniasis factsheet


Cutaneous leishmaniasis factsheet

Disease brief

Towards a new generation of treatments for leishmaniasis
New partnerships and new R&D strategies


Visual patient story

The disease that strikes back
Can post-kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis threaten progress against kala-azar?


AfriKADIA logo

AfriKADIA is a consortium funded by the funded by the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to find improved treatments and diagnostic tools for visceral leishmaniasis in eastern Africa.

Visit the AfriKADIA website



The research and development project AfriCoLeish is supported by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (EU FP7).

Visit the AfriCoLeish website