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Combination therapies are a cost-effective alternative when treating visceral leishmaniasis

13 Sep. 2013
Combination therapies are a cost-effective alternative when treating visceral leishmaniasis

Visceral leishmaniasis is the second-deadliest parasitic disease after malaria. Each year, thousands fall victim among poor and marginalised populations in low-income countries. Filip Meheus is the first to detail the economic aspects of the disease in India, Nepal and Sudan. On Monday 16 September, Meheus will receive a PhD title at the University of Nijmegen for his research at the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp.

Visceral leishmaniasis has become harder to control, because current treatments increasingly fail (like in Nepal with resistance to the drug miltefosine).

Meheus shows that combination therapies (the use of multiple drugs) is a cost-effective alternative to the current first-line treatments. This is mainly due to the shorter duration of treatment and the lower cost of the drugs used for combination therapies.

Combination therapies would also alleviate the enormous economic damage the disease causes in families and relieve the workload in hospitals.  However, additional efforts are needed to further drop prices of some drugs (like liposomal amphotericin B) and diagnose and treat patients more quickly.

"This disease wrecks patients twice, both physically and financially. The study results offer some tools to assist them better, even where the needs are huge and the means limited,” said Meheus.

Filip Meheus (Ghent, Belgium, 1978) studied Applied Economics in Antwerp (Belgium) and Health Economics in Rotterdam (the Netherlands). His thesis was supervised by the Institute of Tropical Medicine and St Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (the Netherlands). Meheus is currently working as a lecturer at the School of Public Health & Family Medicine (University of Cape Town) in South Africa.

Visceral leishmaniasis in a nutshell

  • Also known as kala-azar
  • The second-deadliest parasitic disease after malaria
  • Transmitted by sandflies
  • Hundreds of thousands of people in 88 countries are affected in 88 landen
  • The pathogen Leishmania manipulates its host cell, the macrophage
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