Sleeping sickness the scourge of Africa's health

More than 65-million Africans risk catching trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness, the common name of the illness, every year and the disease is a major threat to Africa’s development, a report by the African Union (AU) warns.

The pan-African organisation on February 19 last year launched a continent-wide campaign to eradicate the tse-tse fly-spread disease, which also affects both livestock and wildlife. The general public is largely unaware of the dangers posed by trypanosomiasis and ignorance of the illness “constitutes a serious threat to the socio-economic development” in Africa, according to an AU report.

More than half-a-million Africans currently suffer from sleeping sickness, which can have a mortality rate of as high as 80%, according to the report.

But, if one takes into account the zones infested by tse-tse fly, it is clear that up to 65-million Africans, most of them inhabitants of rural areas, are at risk of contracting the disease, according to AU experts.

The disease kills more than 50 000 people each year, according to Doctor John Kabayo, the coordinater of the Pan-African Tse-Tse Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC) launched by AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.

Trypanosomiasis is also one of the most deadly parasite-borne animal diseases.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), trypanosomiasis kills three-million head of livestock every year and sick animals become less productive.

Trypanosomiasis, also locally known as nagana, threatens some 50-million cattle in Africa, according to a recent report by FAO. About 20 tse-tse species infest a third of Africa’s surface area or more than 10-million square kilometres in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 600-million and $1,2-billion is spent on trypanosomiasis control measures and in lost meat and milk production each year, FAO noted.

“In countries entirely infested with tse-tse fly, trypanosomiasis can reduce the gross domestic product of agriculture by two to 10%,” according to the African

Trypanosomiasis Control Programme.

“All together, trypanosomiasis threatens to reduce the total number of livestock (165-million animals in sub-Saharan Africa) by about 10-50%,” the report by the trypanosomiasis control programme said.

“Unlike malaria, Aids and other priorities and emergencies of the continent, it (trypanosomiasis) continues to attract insufficient attention for intervention and action,” the PATTEC official wrote in an Ethiopian weekly newspaper.

To eradicate the trypanosomiasis scourge, experts have suggested the use of an insect sterilizing technique, which entails the release once a week of millions of sterile male tse-tse in infested areas to stop their reproduction.
- Sapa-AFP

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