Leishmaniasis and malaria share similar methods of transmission and control. Both are spread at night by insects and each disease will spread uncontrolled if unchecked by prevention strategies, such as bed nets and spraying insecticides around homes and breeding areas. 

Just as with malaria is caused by mosquitos, leishmaniasis is spread by the sand fly bites which infect victims with tiny parasites which will normally eat and kill flesh, leading to immense discomfort and disfigurement which can lead to life threatening infection. 

Sadly, conflict in the Middle East is providing the perfect conditions for the terrible disease to spread at pace, according to Rune Bosselmann, Director of TANA Netting. 

“Normally people live in regular houses with sound structures including windows to keep bugs out, but once you displace populations you have a lot of people sleeping out in the open or in tents who are unprotected,” he says. 

“Sand flies like nothing more than heaps of rubbish and rubble to breed in and so if you have towns that have been bombed you get the perfect conditions for them. When you then throw in that health systems will have typically broken down, due to conflict, you have the optimum conditions for leishmaniasis to spread unchecked.” 

 

Net solution

 

The international community has not stood by idly and let displaced populations suffer needlessly. TANA Netting has developed a sand fly net which is being distributed in multiple regions across the Middle East, often in conflict zones. Working with Britain’s Department For International Development (DFID) and US Aid, the nets are making a real difference on the ground. 

“There are several advantages with sand fly bed nets over mosquito nets, which we also supply in areas affected by malaria,” says Bosselmann. 

“Because the sand flies are so small, they’re only two or three millimetre in size, the mesh of the bed net has to be really tiny so that actually makes them really strong, you don’t have the problem of 

tearing to the same extent as you do a mosquito net. The only thing we’ve had to do very differently with sand fly nets is make them a dusty, sand colour because they’re being used in areas where there is a lot of sand blown around in the air and we don’t want them to look dusty because they would get washed too many times. The fewer times they’re washed, the longer the insecticide lasts.” 

Here again, there is an advantage with tackling the sand fly, rather than mosquitos. Resistance to insecticides is not currently a major issue because sand flies do not live around vegetation which might have been sprayed in the past and so, without as much exposure to insecticides, have not been able to develop resistance. 

The proof of how effective TANA’s bed nets have been, in addition to local agencies treating sand fly breeding sites with insecticides, comes with recent figures that reveal a very encouraging success rate. Within a year of being introduced in areas blighted by conflict and leishmaniasis, incidences have been reduced to just a quarter of their previous levels.