The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and Crown Agents announced today a new partnership to strengthen visceral leishmaniasis (VL) testing and address current VL outbreaks in Kenya, as part of ASCEND, a UK government initiative to defeat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
ASCEND (Accelerating the Sustainable Control and Elimination of NTDs) is designed to advance the impact and sustainability of national programmes tackling NTDs. Crown Agents leads a consortium of technical partners to implement ASCEND across South Asia, and East and Southern Africa. FIND is working on essential training of health workers for the diagnosis and management of VL, the supply of rapid diagnostic tests, and community sensitization in Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana and Wajir counties. Activities are set to expand into Baringo, Garissa, Kitui and West Pokot counties.
VL, also known as kala-azar, is an NTD caused by protozoan parasites and transmitted through the bites of sandflies. It is almost always fatal if not diagnosed and treated. Poor rural communities in eastern Africa and the Indian sub-continent carry the highest burden of the disease. In Kenya, which is among the top 10 high-burden countries for VL across the world, more than 5 million people live at constant risk of infection, with approximately 1,200 cases reported each year – figures that are certainly underestimated due to the lack of access to diagnosis.
ASCEND is advancing the Kenyan national goal of prevention and control of VL in all endemic areas of the country. FIND recently registered an office in Kenya, and has been working closely with the Kenyan government on VL control and elimination since 2016. Work on the ASCEND VL project will build on the organization’s previous work to strengthen diagnostics and testing services across the country and address the current VL outbreaks in Garissa and Kitui counties.
“We are honoured to bring our experience in VL to ASCEND, and to continue to help support Kenya’s Ministry of Health to build the testing capacity needed to underpin elimination efforts in all the counties where the disease is being reported today,” said Prof. Joseph Ndung’u, Head of the FIND NTD programme and Executive Director of FIND Kenya.
“The new partnership with FIND will support the Kenya government to have a sustainable control of VL in all endemic counties, improve diagnosis and treatment, strengthen the supply chain, increase awareness of the disease and most importantly integrate VL control and into the health system,” said Dr Duncan Ochol, ASCEND Country Lead, Kenya.