The Islamic State’s civil war has created havoc across the Middle East in terms of bombed out buildings and displacing millions of people. However, they have also developed the perfect breeding ground for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a disfiguring disease caused by bites from infected sand flies. And because of the mass movement of people due to the refugee crisis, this disfiguring disease may be on its way to southern Europe, officials warn.
Cutaneous leishmaniasis leads to significant scarring on the face, and due to lack of medical facilities within the Middle East and in refugee camps, it is often left untreated.
The disease has thrived in the war torn environment due to numerous bombed out and abandoned buildings and the problem of a lack of water.
This issue seems to be a new one, as before the civil war, only a few cases were reported each year. Between 2000 and 2012, Lebanon only reported six cases. However, in 2013 alone, they have reported 1,033, most originating from Syrian refugees now living in Lebanon.
Along with disfigurement, the disease can cause open sores, nose bleeds, difficulty breathing and swallowing and death in some cases. Death most often happens when it is not treated, which happens more and more often with the lack of medical facilities.
Although the disease was once only contained to Syria, it is making its way to neighboring countries at a rapid rate. For instance, in southern Turkey alone, they have reported over 400 cases.
Dr. Waleed Al-Salem of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said:
“It’s a very bad situation. The disease has spread dramatically in Syria, but also into countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and even into southern Europe with refugees coming in.
There are thousands of cases in the region but it is still underestimated because no one can count the exact number of people affected.
When people are bitten by a sand-fly – which are tiny and smaller than a mosquito – it can take anything between two to six months to have the infection.
So someone might have picked it up in Syria but then they may have fled into Lebanon or Turkey, or even into Europe as they seek refuge.
Prior to the outbreak of war there was good control of diseases, parasites and sand flies but when the conflict started no one cared, conditions worsened and the health system broke down, which has created an ideal environment for disease outbreaks.”
Anna Scanlon is an author of YA and historical fiction and a PhD student at the University of Leicester where she is finishing her degree in modern history.