Sleeping sickness, also called “human African trypanosomiasis”, is a widespread tropical disease that can be fatal if not treated. It is spread by the bite of an infected tsetse fly (Glossina Genus), a species native to the African continent. Sixty million people who live mainly in rural parts of East, West and Central Africa are at risk of contracting sleeping sickness.
The tsetse fly bite erupts into a red sore and within a few weeks the person can experience fever, swollen lymph glands, aching muscles and joints, headaches and irritability. In advanced stages, the disease attacks the central nervous system and people present with changes in personality, alteration of the biological clock (the circadian rhythm), confusion, slurred speech, seizures and difficulty in walking and talking. These problems can develop over many years and if not treated, the person dies.
I experienced the tsetse fly first hand on the border of Zambia and the Democratic of the Congo and they are literally everywhere. You need to cover up to protect yourself from them, but the locals deal with it as just a part of normal life challenges.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the highest cases of sleeping sickness, and inadequate funding, inaccessibility, and de-prioritization have left efforts stagnant.
The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation though is investing tens of millions of dollars into innovative research that are not economic fro private organisations.
The foundation is demonstrating it has what it takes to eliminate sleeping sickness – a disease the world doesn’t pay attention to. Progress in Uganda already shows what’s possible. In 2006, there were nearly 300 cases. By 2013, that number had dropped to 10. In 2016 this dropped to only four.
Their investments use business principles and logic. There are now new diagnostic technologies, new drugs in clinical trials, new products to reduce insect populations, and state-of-the-art mapping and micro-planning to guide efforts with greater precision.