Flesh-eating disease is weakening ISIS, but at what cost?


It may have seemed as though nothing soon would stop ISIS.

Now, however, a biological threat is spreading among the notorious group: a flesh-eating virus called Leishmaniasis.

Also known as white leprosy and black fever, the virus is transmitted by sandflies which are hosts to protozoan parasites.

The ailment causes skin ulcers, fever, low red blood cells and enlarged spleen and liver. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS’s declared capital of their caliphate, the virus is spreading uncontrollably amongst the militants and civilians alike.

Over 100,000 cases have been reported throughout the region in the most recent few months. It typically kills roughly 20,000 out of 2 million newly infectioned people annually.

This horrific disease is prevalent almost entirely in poor populations who suffer from malnutrition, deforestated homelands, unsanitary conditions and where individuals live in close quarters with one another.

The spread is excacerbated in Syria by the breakdown of government systems that collect garbage, provide medical care and supply treated drinking water. These are further exaggerated in the over-crowded refugee camps.

This number is tracked by local hospitals and foreign medical organizations that fight viruses like this.

Many in Syria are already unable to seek medical treatment, and now the militant organization and the areas it has invaded have been effected.

Given the four years of Syrian civil war since the Arab Spring in 2011 and the devastation of ISIS’s advancement, the once well-functioning healthcare system is destroyed.

Over two thirds of Syrian hospitals were either destroyed or abandoned.

This left only organizations such as Doctors Without Borders along with local doctors to fill the vast need.

Yet, since Raqqa fell to ISIS in early 2013, the climate became increasingly grim and dangerous for doctors working in this war-torn, ISIS controlled area.

The only hope for many civilians would be a 100 mile trip to the nearest appropriate medical care, but many are forced to remain in Raqqa by force or threats against their family.

DWB was forced to leave after the abduction of and violence agaisnt a number of their doctors.

The organizaiton still operates in other governorates of Syria, but now, only local doctors without experience or knowledge to treat the disease are left to help the afflicted civilians.

ISIS, peculiarly has refused treatment for Leishmaniasis. Althought they have taken advantage of treatment for battle wounds.

Yet, they have denied DWB and Red Cross requests to enter Raqqa territory and, at the very least, treat civilians with the disease.

It is not clear why ISIS insurgents are refusing treatment in this case.

The anti-ISIS group, Raqqa, is being slaughtered silently, estimated that 3,000 people inside ISIS-controlled territory have contracted this debilitating disease.

Meanwhile, while the insurgents refuse treatment and deny entry to medical teams that could help, Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders, says that local leaders are imploring her organization for medial assistance.

Unfortunately, the danger is too high, as the safety of foreign doctors is not guaranteed by ISIS forces.

Many outsiders have spoken out about the disease spreading through ISIS as being deserved, but they are by no means the exclusive victims.

Yes, Leishmaniasis would weaken ISIS forces in affected areas, but at what cost to the remaining civilian population? Global health expert, Dr. Peter Hotez, worries that the outbreak of this disease is just the start.

With the breakdown of government power, sanitation systems and medical access, Mers and other deadly diseases might become the next plague to ravage the Syrian people.


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