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Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by the bite of infected sand flies. There are several different forms of leishmaniasis. The most common form of leishmaniasis in India is Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL), also known as Kala-azar, which affects some of the internal organs of the body. Leishmaniasis is found in about 88 countries. Approximately 350 million people live in these areas. Most of the affected countries are in the tropics and sub-tropics. The settings in which leishmaniasis is found range from rain forests in Central and South America to deserts in West Asia. More than 90 per cent of the world's cases of VL are in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan and Brazil. Leishmaniasis is found in some parts of Mexico, Central America, Southern Europe, Asia, Middle East and also Africa particularly East and North Africa.

Kala-azar or VL has been a major health problem in the state of Bihar for the last three decades or more. At present, 28/37 districts are endemic at different levels. Eighty to ninety percent of all the cases in India are reported from Bihar state alone. The incidence of Kala-azar in India is among the highest in the world. As per the WHO, the global estimate for the incidence and prevalence of Kala-azar cases per year is 0.5 million and 2.5 million, respectively and in India, the calculated DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) lost due to Kala-azar in 1990 were 6.8 million for men and 0.5 million for women.

The Institute has identified research priorities on Kala-azar which are being worked out in a phased manner in the areas of chemotherapy, development of diagnostics, disease epidemiology, pathology, parasite characterization, leishmania parasite bank, host immune responses, vector biology and its control and social aspects. Besides kala-azar, Post Kala-azar Dermal Leishmaniasis (PKDL) is also studied from various aspects. This institute is also functioning as surveillance and testing centre for HIV-AIDS in Bihar under the supervision of National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) in collaboration with State AIDS cell.

The important thrust areas of research are on clinical trials of new anti-leishmanials, diagnostic aspect of Kala-azar such as developing nucleic acid based probe, Western Blot technique, DAT and IHC staining technique for diagnosis of PKDL, parasitological aspect such as cryopreservation for establishment of leishmania bank, parasite growth kinetics, virulence and isoenzyme characterisation. Epidemiological studies to assess transmission factors and epidemic predictions by help of mathematical modeling and remote sensing technique have been important areas of research. Vector biology and control studies have been given emphasis in last few years.

The Institute desires to collaborate with other national and international agencies and scientists at all levels in its efforts to control the menace of visceral leishmaniasis.