How Sleeping Sickness, Trypanosomiasis, Was Almost Wiped Out in Africa

Sleeping sickness, also known as African trypanosomiasis, is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by tsetse flies [1]. In the past, sleeping sickness was a major public health problem in Africa with thousands of cases reported in several countries [1]. However, thanks to persistent control efforts, there has been a staggering 97% reduction in new cases over the past two decades [1] —a testament to the resilience of those fighting this disease.

How Sleeping Sickness, Trypanosomiasis, Was Almost Wiped Out in Africa
Thanks to persistent control efforts, there has been a 97% reduction in new cases over the past two decades.

Breakthroughs in African trypanosomiasis treatment

The decline in the number of new cases can largely be attributed to the effective and patient-friendly drug treatments [1]. It shows that pharmaceutical advancements have simplified disease management and have significantly decreased mortality rates.

Moreover, as tsetse flies remain impervious to conventional insect repellents, heightened awareness and education about the disease [1] have been important in controlling and preventing the spread of trypanosomiasis. The introduction of innovative diagnostic tools [1] has facilitated early detection and further contributed to the disease’s decline.

Addressing the socio-economic challenges

The fight against African trypanosomiasis has seen significant progress, but the socio-economic challenges remain substantial. The disease primarily affects rural areas, and combined with the lack of skilled staff and acute clinical progression, the surveillance has weakened in countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe [2]. It shows that the geographical isolation, coupled with the socio-economic deprivation, can hamper effective disease management. As such, the elimination of African trypanosomiasis requires a sustained commitment from endemic countries and international donors.

How Sleeping Sickness, Trypanosomiasis, Was Almost Wiped Out in Africa
Sleeping sickness, also known as African trypanosomiasis, is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by tsetse flies.

In conclusion, the progress in combating African trypanosomiasis is a beacon of hope for public health. The synergy of advanced drug treatments, educational initiatives, and diagnostic tools has supported a downturn in new cases. Yet, the journey towards eradication is ongoing.

[1] World Health Organization: WHO. (2023c, May 2). Trypanosomiasis, human African (sleeping sickness). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/trypanosomiasis-human-african-(sleeping-sickness)
[2] Franco JR, Cecchi G, Priotto G, et al. Monitoring the elimination of human African trypanosomiasis: Update to 2016. Plos Neglected Tropical Diseases. 2018, Dec 6. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0006890

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