Prof El Hassan was a young research assistant in 1958 when he saw his first case of visceral leishmaniasis in the state of Gedarif, Sudan. In those days, little was known about immune responses to the disease and epidemics were frequent. To understand the disease, Prof El Hassan busied himself with clinical work and conducted numerous autopsies on patients who died from leishmaniasis.
Over 40 years ago antimonials were the mainstay drugs in Sudan, and were extremely effective. Treated with 10mg/kg of pentavalent antimonial for 14 days, patients would go home cured. Over the years, Prof El Hassan noticed a slow build up of resistance to the drugs and is fearful that this foretells disaster. Today, although the drug is still used in Sudan as first-line treatment, dosages and durations have escalated to 20mg/kg over 30 days.
It is obvious," he said, "that new drugs for this disease are urgently needed to counter growing resistance."
Prof El Hassan is former Dean of the Medical School at the University of Khartoum. He founded the Institute of Endemic Diseases in 1993 and was its Director until 2003. He feels that leishmaniasis has been badly neglected by both national and international research organisations and funding agencies. Under estimation of its severity has resulted in few new drugs in 70-80 years.
In his opinion, an organisation such as DNDi will make a significant difference by addressing the drug needs of neglected diseases.
"DNDi has already had a positive impact in Sudan by building, equipping and commissioning a laboratory in Kassab and has contributed to capacity building by training young Sudanese scientists," he said.
He is convinced that this positive effect will percolate through to health research in general in the country.
"DNDi is on the right track as it is initiating and maintaining close relationships with scientists working in endemic regions and giving high priority to the needs of the patients suffering from neglected diseases, such as leishmaniasis.""Leishmaniasis in Sudan" A.M. El Hassan and E.E.Zijlstra. Transactions of the RSTMH, Volume 95 Supplement 1 April 2001.