PATH celebrates progress in fight against sleeping sickness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

February 5, 2019 by PATH

DSC03377.JPG DRC sleeping sickness clinic 2018. Photo: PATH/Carolyn Reynolds.

Efforts over the last decade have reduced the number of cases of Human African trypanosomiasis (also called sleeping sickness) in the DRC from 27,000 in 1996 to 650 in 2018. Photo: PATH/Carolyn Reynolds.

One year after declaring January 30 be annually recognized as National Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) Day, the Congolese government and PATH celebrate progress toward disease elimination and launch new scholarship fund to train the next cohort of HAT fighters.

Despite facing massive health and political challenges, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is quietly making progress against one of the most neglected and disabling diseases in the world, Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness. Transmitted by the bite of the tsetse fly, HAT is usually fatal if not treated. Nearly 85 percent of cases occur in the DRC. Thus, eliminating the disease in the country would pave the way for elimination worldwide.

The DRC government’s commitment to HAT elimination was launched last year on the first National Day of HAT, a day designed to raise awareness of the disease. The government quickly followed up its commitment with a comprehensive strategy for achieving elimination. Today that strategy is employing new tools including rapid diagnostic tests, improved treatment, and innovative insecticide-treated traps to control tsetse flies, alongside an awareness-raising campaign, use of digital technology to help find and confirm new cases, and “mini-mobile teams” going door-to-door in remote provinces to screen for the disease.

On January 30, 2019, Minister of Health Dr. Oly Ilunga Kalenga marked the first anniversary of the National Day of HAT and shared that the strategy is working. HAT cases are down from 1,200 in 2017 to just 650 in 2018. The minister celebrated this progress and highlighted new tools and approaches for achieving HAT elimination, including an exciting new PATH-supported public health Master’s scholarship fund to train the next cohort of frontline health care workers and a new oral treatment.

Scholarship fund will help train the next cohort of HAT fighters

Understanding that an enhanced expertise of the public health workforce will be critical to reaching elimination targets, PATH and the Ministry of Health launched the “Dr. Victor Kande HAT fellows,” a five-year postgraduate scholarship program supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The fellows programs is named in honor of Dr. Kande, who is renowned for his work both nationally and internationally in the fight against HAT and is still active in elimination efforts. Over five years, PATH will support 25 Programme National de Lutte contre la Trypanosomiase Humaine Africaine (PNLTHA) staff to receive in-depth studies at the University of Kinshasa School of Public Health with an additional two staff receiving advanced training at the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp.

After graduation, scholarship recipients will commit to a minimum of two years of service to the PLNTHA in provinces containing the highest density of HAT. With approximately two-thirds of all HAT cases in the DRC located in the provinces of Kwango, Kwilu, and Mai-Ndombe, as well as the former province of Bandundu, infection in this region strongly influences the epidemiological curve for the entire country.

Watch the short video and read the press release highlighting the DRC’s continued commitment to HAT elimination and the international partnerships helping to get them there.

HAT is one of the neglected tropical diseases included in the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, a commitment made in 2012 by pharmaceutical companies, donors, endemic countries, and nongovernmental organizations to control, eliminate, or eradicate 10 diseases by 2020.

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