Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) or sleeping sickness, only occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 60 million people in 36 countries are at risk.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 95 percent of reported cases are caused by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, which is found in western and central Africa. The other 10 percent of cases are caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, which is found in eastern and southern Africa.
Both subspecies are harbored by both wild and domestic animals which provide a reservoir of infection for Tsetse flies which then bite humans.
The infection attacks the central nervous system, causing severe neurological disorders. Without treatment the disease is fatal.
Earlier this week, WHO announced three countries – Benin, Uganda and Rwanda – have now received validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that at least one form of HAT has been eliminated as a public health problem in their lands.
Benin and Uganda (in November 2021 and April 2022 respectively) were validated as having eliminated the gambiense form of sleeping sickness, while Rwanda received validation regarding the rhodesiense form in April 2022.
Uganda is the only country where both forms are endemic but has now achieved elimination as a public health problem of the gambiense form. The country remains committed to eliminating the rhodesiense form as well, which affects central and southern regions.
At the beginning of the 21st century, large numbers of HAT cases were being reported so, in 2001, WHO launched an initiative to reinforce surveillance and control of the disease in all endemic countries. This led to a progressive decrease in incidence, with cases going below 1000 annually for the first time in 2018.
This prompted WHO to target the elimination of both variants of HAT as public health problems.
All three countries have carried out extensive laboratory tests and reactive interventions in areas where cases were diagnosed, and have also undertaken interventions to target the vectors of disease, in this case, the tsetse flies. They have also demonstrated that they have detailed plans for ongoing HAT surveillance, to monitor for further outbreaks of disease.