Leishmaniasis in Mt. Elgon: Vector(s) species, Reservoir Host(s) species and Innovative Approaches to their Control

Prof. Moses Ngeiwa is currently conducting a Multi-disciplinary research funded by the National Research Fund on “Leishmaniasis in Mt. Elgon Focus: Vector(s) species, Reservoir Host(s) species and Innovative Approaches to their Control” (Project number NRF/2/MMC/334). Prof. Ngeiywa is a PhD trained Parasitologist (DAAD Alumni; Moi University/Bonn University laboratory experience) with long service in the department of Biological Sciences. His research interests are in Biomedical Sciences specializing in Epidemiology of protozoan diseases. As PI in the current project, he collaborates with other specialists in UOE (Dr. Judy Makwali), KEMRI (Johnstone Ingonga), Moi University (Moris Kong’ong’o) and University of East Africa, Baraton (Prof. Obey). 

Leishmaniasis is a vector-borne parasitic disease caused by about 20 confirmed species of Leishmania mostly transmitted by about 30 described phlebotomine sand flies. The disease is transmitted through the bite of infected female sandflies belonging to the Phlebotomus, Lutzomyia, and Psychodopygus species. These nocturnal insects bite from dusk to dawn and are often found in forests, stone and mud walls cracks, caves and animal burrows. They are very tiny silent fliers which do not hum and their bite might go unnoticed. 
Leishmaniasis is clinically divided into three major categories; cutaneous, mucocutaneous, and visceral. The infection is classified as a neglected tropical disease (NTD) affecting mostly poor people in poor countries. In nature, infected animals and the vectors maintain the transmission cycle of the parasite. About 4 to 12 million people are currently infected by leishmaniasis in some 98 countries with 2 million new cases and between 20 and 50 thousand deaths occurring each year. Zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis is estimated to cause about 700,000 to 1.2 million new cases of human infections per year. This form of leishmaniasis was confirmed in some regions of Rift valley and in Mt. Elgon region in Kenya more than 40 years ago but no control measures have ever been implemented. The parasite’s reservoir hosts in Mt. Elgon focus were then incriminated as the rock hyrax, the tree hyrax, and the giant rat but no parasites were isolated from these suspected reservoir hosts and other animals have never been investigated as possible reservoir hosts. Phlebotomus pedifer and P. elgonensis were implicated in the transmission of leishmaniasis in Mt. Elgon focus but these vector species were identified only morphologically, thus there is need to confirm the taxonomic identities of the vector(s) using the more sensitive molecular techniques.

The temporal and spatial distribution of sand flies depends on local geographical and climatic factors. There is need to carry out comprehensive studies of these factors to correlate to vector population distribution and thus inform targeted control. Control of vector-borne disease can target the vector, the definitive host or the reservoir host. Success of control strategy will depend on thorough understanding of the epidemiology of the disease.

The current status of epidemiological data on leishmaniasis in Mt. Elgon region is lacking and this is needed to enable targeted cost effective and environmentally friendly control of the disease. In addition, the role of anthropogenic activities should be considered and incorporated in disease control measures. The funded project aims at analysis of the above vital data to enable modeling of targeted control of the disease. The expected results can be applied to control the disease in Mt. Elgon and other regions experiencing the disease.
The project is in its first year of implementation and updates on the outputs will be shared in subsequent reviews.

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