The paper reviews advances in our understanding of the vectorial capacity and vector–parasite relationship in Kenyan sandflies since the early 1900s (when sandflies were first reported in Kenya). Of the 38 species of sandflies known to occur in Kenya to date, three (Phlebotomus pedifer, P. martini and P. duboscqi) can naturally carry biochemically and serologically confirmed Leishmania (aethiopica, donovani and major, respectively) and 12 (Phlebotomus rhodhaini, Sergentomyia garnhami, S. squamipleuris, S. africanus, S. kirki, S. ingrami, S. antennatus, S. bedfordi, S. schwetzi, S. affinis, S. graingeri and S. clydei) carry various flagellates of biochemically or serologically unknown character.
Current research on naturally infected wild-caught sandflies indicates that L. aethiopica promastigotes have close association with structures resembling a peritrophic membrane and invade P. pedifer gut cells. Promastigotes invade the malpighian tubules of S. garnhami and S. antennatus.
Studies on laboratory-reared sandflies show that P. martini is susceptible to L. donovani amastigotes and that cultured promastigotes of L. donovani can survive in the guts of S. schwetzi, S. ingrami and S. adleri.
Experimental infection of sandflies with Leishmania is discussed and priorities for laboratory work set.