Leishmaniasis is a disease caused by protozoan Leishmania parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bite of infected sandflies. The disease affects some of the poorest people on the planet, and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of resources. There are three main forms of leishmaniasis – visceral, cutaneous and mucocutaneous. Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar, is the most serious form of the disease and is fatal if left untreated. It is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anaemia. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is the most common form of leishmaniasis and causes skin lesions, mainly ulcers, on exposed parts of the body, leaving life-long scars and serious disability. Mucocutaneous leishmaniasis leads to partial or total destruction of mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat. Almost 90% of mucocutaneous leishmaniasis cases occur in South America.
In the Western Pacific Region, visceral leishmaniasis is known to be endemic in China. Cutaneous leishmaniasis is also suspected to be present in parts of China.