The leishmaniases are a group of diseases caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania. Various Leishmania species can cause human infection, producing a spectrum of clinical manifestations. It is estimated that 350 million people are at risk, with a global yearly incidence of 1–1.5 million for cutaneous and 500 000 for visceral leishmaniasis (VL). VL is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in East Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Coinfection with HIV enhances the risk of the disease. The only control measure currently available in India is case detection and treatment with antimonial drugs, which are expensive, not always available and cannot be self-administered. Newer drugs like oral miltefosine have not become widely available. Vector and reservoir control is difficult due to the elusive nature of the vector and the diversity of the animal reservoir. A detailed knowledge of immune response to the parasite would help in designing prophylactic and therapeutic strategies against this infection.