The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases a $5 million grant for research into visceral leishmaniasis in Ethiopia. The project is a collaborative effort with Addis Ababa University.

Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as Kala-azar, is considered an emerging disease in Ethiopia where it is frequently associated with HIV/AIDS, a leading cause of adult illness and death. Leishmania donovani parasites multiply inside cells of the immune system producing symptoms that include an enlarged spleen and fevers. If treated with a 30-day course of intra-muscular injections, the cure rate is 95 percent. However, if left untreated, Kala-azar kills 95 percent of its victims.

Prof. Alon Warburg, the project leader, explains that, “Visceral leishmaniasis is transmitted by small, mosquito-like insects known as sand flies.”

An estimated 500,000 cases of visceral leishmaniasis – Kala-azar – occur annually. More than 90 percent of the cases are concentrated in the Indian sub-continent, East Africa and Brazil. The worst affected region in Africa is southern Sudan and northwest Ethiopia.

The data gathered will be rigorously analyzed to identify the weak links in the transmission cycle and devise methods for control of the disease.