WHO reports on near-complete elimination of sleeping sickness

(ORDO NEWS) — Specialists from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN have monitored the spread of sleeping sickness in Africa over the past two years. They came to the conclusion that its distribution zone was reduced to 200 thousand km2, and the number of its new carriers for the first time fell below the mark of a thousand people. The findings of the scientists published in the scientific journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“We are on the verge of eliminating the sleeping sickness epidemic by the end of 2020 and solving the task that WHO set itself in 2012. When this goal is achieved, we will begin to prepare for the next big task – the complete destruction of its West African version by 2030, “the researchers write.

African tsetse flies remain one of the main threats to the health of the inhabitants of many southern regions of Africa, as well as to their livestock. The danger is due to the fact that in the saliva of these insects single-celled microorganisms live – trypanosomes, such as Trypanosoma brucei, as well as other varieties of these parasites.

When the tsetse fly drinks the blood of people or animals, part of these microbes is transferred from its mouth to the blood of the future victim. After some time, trypanosomes spread throughout the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Propagation of trypanosomes in nerve tissues causes drowsiness, and subsequently leads to the death of the patient. Due to the existence of tsetse flies, almost half of Africa is still unsuitable for cattle breeding.

At the beginning of the 2000s, after several major outbreaks of sleeping sickness in the countries of southern and eastern Africa, the WHO leadership, as well as the governments of the countries affected by the epidemic, decided to actively combat the acute form of this disease caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense trypanosomes.

According to the epidemiologist Jose Franco and his colleagues, these measures were so successful that in 2012, the WHO leadership launched a special program to eliminate all major foci of sleeping sickness. The organization planned to do this by 2020.

Complete elimination

Under the program, WHO and its partners diagnosed and treated already infected people, monitored the areas where tsetse flies live, destroyed them and told Africans about the dangers that these insects and the parasites they carry.

Franco and his team summarized the interim results of this work. Scientists analyzed how the situation has changed since 2018. They concluded that WHO and its international partners are one step away from fulfilling the 2012 goals. However, some indicators have already been achieved.

In particular, the number of new carriers of infection has more than halved, from 2.1 thousand people in 2016 to 977 patients in 2018. The area on which tsetse flies and parasites live has decreased to 200 thousand km2, which is almost four times smaller than the size of the “danger zone” in 2004.

According to WHO experts, eight African countries at once, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Rwanda and Togo, can already say that there is no sleeping sickness on their territory. True, the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to be difficult: in the country there are more than half of the areas affected by the infection.

The situation in these areas, as scientists hope, should become much better in the coming years. The development of WHO epidemiologists and local specialists, as well as new drugs against the chronic form of sleeping sickness, should help.

Considering that today there are quite few cases of acute form of sleeping sickness in all African countries, in the near future doctors plan to reorient most of the resources to fight the West African version of this disease, which is proceeding in a less obvious form. WHO plans to fully cope with it by 2030.


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