While three countries in South Asia decided to eliminate anthroponotic visceral leishmaniasis (VL) by 2015, its control in other regions seems fraught with difficulties. Is there a scope for more effective VL control in the Americas where transmission is zoonotic? We reviewed the evidence on VL control strategies in Latin America—diagnosis, treatment, veterinary interventions, vector control—with respect to entomological and clinical outcomes.
We searched the electronic databases of MEDLINE, LILACS, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, from 1960 to November 2008 and references of selected articles. Intervention trials as well as observational studies that evaluated control strategies of VL in the Americas were included. While the use of rapid diagnostic tests for VL diagnosis seems well established, there is a striking lack of evidence from clinical trials for drug therapy and few well designed intervention studies for control of vectors or canine reservoirs.
Elimination of zoonotic VL in the Americas does not seem a realistic goal at this point given the lack of political commitment, gaps in scientific knowledge, and the weakness of case management and surveillance systems. Research priorities and current strategies should be reviewed with the aim of achieving better VL control.
Visceral leishmaniasis is a vector-borne disease characterized by fever, spleen and liver enlargement, and low blood cell counts. In the Americas VL is zoonotic, with domestic dogs as main animal reservoirs, and is caused by the intracellular parasite Leishmania infantum (syn. Leishmania chagasi). Humans acquire the infection through the bite of an infected sand fly. The disease is potentially lethal if untreated. VL is reported from Mexico to Argentina, with recent trends showing a rapid spread in Brazil. Control measures directed against the canine reservoir and insect vectors have been unsuccessful, and early detection and treatment of human cases remains as the most important strategy to reduce case fatality. Well-designed studies evaluating diagnosis, treatment, and prevention/control interventions are scarce. The available scientific evidence reasonably supports the use of rapid diagnostic tests for the diagnosis of human disease. Properly designed randomized controlled trials following good clinical practices are needed to inform drug policy. Routine control strategies against the canine reservoirs and insect vectors are based on weak and conflicting evidence, and vector control strategies and vaccine development should constitute research priorities.