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Sufferers from the parasitic infection visceral leishmaniasis who cannot afford current relatively expensive treatments might benefit from a cheaper, low-dose drug regime, according to the results of a pilot study carried out at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India.

Effective treatments for leishmaniasis, which produces fever, weight loss, anaemia, and swelling of the spleen and liver, are currently too expensive for most of the world’s one million sufferers, half of whom live in India.

But researchers at the university's Kala-Azar Medical Research Centre have found in a study whose results are published in the British Medical Journal that even a much lower dose of one existing treatment, liposome amphotericin B, can in many cases cure the life-threatening infection.

The researchers report that they achieved a 92 per cent cure rate with 5 mg/kg of the drug, given as a single dose or short 5-day course. In India, the low-dose treatment would cost an average US$519 per patient, compared to US$1900 for the standard recommended dose of 21 mg/kg.

The authors acknowledge, however, that even though the low dose is more affordable, the cost is still too high: "If definite trials establish the efficacy of our low-dose regimen, drug companies will have to cut prices for the potential benefits to be realised," they write.

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