Ethiopia – Leishmaniasis

My overseas jaunt was not exactly focused on looking at the magnificent structures and buildings that man hath wrought upon the earth. Nor was it focused upon the wonders of the physical structure of the earth. No, sometimes just sitting and talking to someone was worth more than all this.


Now that’s an interesting word. Obviously some bloke called Leishman was the first to identify the rotten little parasite that can attack the skin and cause horrible defacing lesions. Some photographs are very confronting and I don’t do gross very well.

Anyway the parasite attacks the skin and can destroy it. It causes disfiguring marks and can actually eat way a lot of flesh. This disfigurement can have a devastating psychological effect.

Apart from the area shown in the map below it also occurs in tropical South and Central America and is even known in Texas.

So why the interest?

I met Ato Behailu Merdekios in Arba Minch which is about 500km south of Addis Ababa, has a population of 200,000 and is about 5000 ft above sea level.Ā 

Behailu is currently working toward his PhD in tropical medicine while he continues as an assistant professor at Arba Minch University. This means he needs to travel between Ethiopia and Belgium regularly.

So this is what he told me. There is local herbal medicine to combat Leishmaniasis. The doctor or local native worker can go into the forest and take some of the leaves of a specific plant. These leaves are then ground into a paste between two rocks. Then you place the paste onto the wound and it effectively kills the bugs. Most countries where Leishmaniasis is endemic also seem to have plants that are efficacious.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is the dosage. This seems to be the basis for Behailu’s research. If the dose is too high it can damage the surrounding skin and cause more trouble. Also the method of grinding the leaves can also introduce small particles of the stones that can cause irritations. He wants to be able to say that giving a small pestle and mortar to the local medicine person can alleviate a part of the problem.

However the main focus is to work out a way of adjusting the dose and at the moment he is experimenting with blending the paste with petroleum jelly.

What he is trying to achieve is a cheap, local method of delivering the drug. Big Pharma is also working on the problem but the individual cost to each patient makes a commercial cure impractical.

Later that evening we had dinner at the Paradise Lodge. It is difficult to see but we are sitting on the edge of the Rift Valley and that lake is about 500 feet below us. It is a sheer drop.

Now here’sĀ  a funny thing, folks. The water level of the lake in the first photo, Lake Abaya, is 3859 feet above sea level.The level of Lake Chamo is 3639 feet. That is a difference of 230 ft and I reckon they could drill a little tunnel between the two and have a bit of a Hydro scheme going. Even so it is very interesting.

More of the city near the University.

22 thoughts on “Ethiopia – Leishmaniasis

  1. The pathogen I work on (Coxiella) replicates in a very similar compartment of the host cell to Leishmania. Funnily enough my Ph. D committee includes a Professor who works on Leishmania (and also Plasmodium) metabolism.

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  2. Thank you John. Now i understood why you kept on asking me to tell you more about what am doing as part of my PhD. I hope some interested peraone would joing me soon.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. This is so interesting. I’m glad there’s a local cure and that someone is working on preparation and dosage. This was a topic of eradication 30 years ago when I was working for Peace Corps. Beautiful photos. I’ve never gotten to the Rift Valley, but it’s supposed to be stunning. Of course, you can get malaria there, too! I hope you’re soon over that bug. It can be a real booger to get over.

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