Neglected tropical diseases

The leishmaniases: timeline of facts and the formidable quest for disease control

5 July 2018 | Geneva – What could be a great way to tell the story of a disease that has changed and evolved so much over the past century? How to capture and generate a disease timeline that has marked history, often with tragic consequences?

A disease that has almost always left sufferers with a stigma and which continues to expand and affect the world’s most vulnerable populations.

“We were inspired by the timeline published to mark the 90th anniversary1 of the Weekly Epidemiological Record and thought it would be an excellent idea to use a similar software to highlight the history of leishmaniasis,” said Dr Jose A. Ruiz Postigo, Medical Officer who manages WHO’s global leishmaniasis programme.

After weeks of deliberation, the leishmaniasis team within the WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases were convinced that something thought-provoking and compelling needed to be created.

“I came to WHO as an intern in 2016 and worked with a group of lovely people on leishmaniasis – a disease with many forms that unfortunately continues to destroy families and communities,” said Imane El M’Ghari. “I was pleased to be given a chance to capture these stories, which were then enhanced with pictures and augmented with interesting historical facts.

Imane understood the level of energy, research and patience it would take to create the stories that would form part of the timeline. But months of work were insufficient to complete the project and soon it was time for her to leave WHO at the end of her internship.

I am delighted at the way some of the stories lead into each other,” said Dr Saurabh Jain, Scientist, who completed the project. “Facts are illustrated and inserted in the timeline with multiple types of media such as text, body fonts, photographs and videos – allowing a lot of variation between events”.

The timeline

After several months of research, the facts were assembled and prepared for publication. This product will be regularly updated and anyone willing to contribute is invited to write to WHO with their suggestions.

A 3D view of the Leishmaniasis timeline

The timeline consists of 105 short stories that begin in 1885 BC and are divided into six categories (case management, disease control, epidemiology, partnership, policy and vector control) which you can select from the configuration function at the bottom right corner to have different views. Typically, as is the case in Tiki Toki, you can explore the stories in 2D or 3D by clicking on the 3D symbol.

The disease

The leishmaniases are a group of diseases that affect some of the poorest people on earth. They are associated with malnutrition, population misplacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of resources for their control and treatment.

As one of the most neglected tropical diseases that cause a variety of clinical manifestations in humans, the evolution of the leishmaniases is intrinsically associated with human activity.

The disease has three main forms:

  • visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar, the most serious form, is fatal in more than 95% of cases if left untreated and is characterized by irregular bouts of fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anaemia;
  • cutaneous leishmaniasis, the most common form, causes skin lesions, mainly ulcers, on exposed parts of the body, leading to permanent scarring and serious disability; and
  • mucocutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes devastating partial or total destruction of the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat.

To understand the disease, it is important to learn about the history of how it evolved. Much of modern scientific literature deals with the control, prevention and treatment of the various forms of this complex disease.

A peek into its history can provide inspiring moments.


Ashok Moloo
Telephone: +41 22 791 16 37
Mobile phone: +41 79 540 50 86