ISIS are being attacked from an angle one would not normally expect. The rebels, who are currently fighting with the Islamic organisation, are being struck down by a flesh-eating disease.
Hundreds of fighters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s caliphate, have been infected by leishmaniasis, which can become fatal if not treated with a simple course of medicine.
For those who do not watch as many episodes of House M.D. as I do, the disease is caused by a parasite which is transmitted to humans through the bites of very particular types of sand flies. Whilst this would appear to be something of a niche disease, considering it is passed by sand flies, you would be mistaken. Sand flies, whilst not common, do appear in the western world with many documented cases of leishmaniasis taking place in America.
Overall, worldwide, about 2 million new cases are reported each year, although as mentioned earlier the disease is easily treatable, meaning that somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000 deaths a year are caused by the infection. The disease itself however can be quite horrifying. Leishmaniasis causes large open wounds on the skin which eat away flesh and can result in enlarged spleens and livers in those who go untreated.
Initial cases of leishmanaiasis were reported in war-torn Syria as early as last year and doctors from organisations like Medicines Sans Frontieres were trying to curb the outbreak. The issue with large scale Islamic Caliphates is that they tend to get in the way of such treatments, the doctors were forced to leave the area since ISIS took control over the region.
With the larger organisations being forced out of the area local physicians, with little experience dealing with the disease, are being forced to try and treat the infected fighters. It is also reported that at least some of the jihadi fighters are refusing medical treatment on religious grounds. This has led to the disease spreading extensively.
Dr Hotez, President of the Sabine Vaccine Institute, has termed the situation out of control. He stated, “Public health control measures stop. There are breakdowns in the water supply and sanitation, breakdowns in healthcare access and access to medicines. All of this happens at once and it is a perfect storm of events.”
Recently the World Health Organisation warned that epidemics would become more prevelent as Syria’s health system had collapsed after years of civil war. Save the Children, estimated that as much as 64% of Syrian public hospitals have been damaged, destroyed or shut down due to the continuing conflict.
The situation is further aggravated as the Islamic State, in its attempt to impose Shariah law in the areas it has captured, have forced doctors to change their practices. Doctors in Raqqa were informed last month that they would be fined if they delivered babies by “unIslamic” Caesarian section.