30 January 2012
Last updated at 12:21
Donor countries, including the UK, and pharmaceutical companies have announced a new plan to tackle killer tropical diseases, which they say have long been neglected by the international community. These include visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar), sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, which have high mortality rates.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is working to combat kala azar in Africa, which without treatment, is fatal in almost 100% of cases. It is caused by the leishmania parasite and transmitted via the bite of an infected sand fly. The parasite attacks organs such as the liver and spleen as well as the immune system.
People with damaged immune systems, such as those living with HIV, are particularly vulnerable to kala azar, and in parts of Ethiopia around one in three patients with kala azar also the Aids virus. The disease kills at least 30,000 people each year.
Mekuriaw Atanaw works as a labourer and caught the disease five years ago and was treated in the then MSF treatment centre in Humera. He said: "I know very well about kala azar. I got sick and was treated. Now, I am working and I am healthy."
Mr Mekuriaw was told how to avoid catching the disease - advice he is now passing on to his friends. "I make sure to eat regularly and I use a mosquito net when I sleep under the tree at night."
MSF health workers hold monthly meetings to discuss HIV where they also distribute condoms. There is no way of knowing whether someone has been cured of Chagas disease, which kills up to 50,000 people a year and affects 18 million people in Latin America.
MSF has welcomed the new initiative to tackle the neglected diseases but warns that the involvement of the pharmaceutical companies could skew the World Health Organisation priorities. It says that issues such as finding easier ways to diagnose and treat the diseases should also be included, along with support for national health programmes. All photographs by Michael Tsegaye/MSF.