Tag Archives: West Africa

Togo is the first African country to eliminate sleeping sickness

Togo, officially the Togolese Republic (République togolaise), a country in West Africa has received validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eliminated human African trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem, becoming the first country in Africa to reach this milestone. It gets its nickname ‘sleeping sickness’ because symptoms can include a disturbed sleep pattern.  

What is African sleeping sickness?

Sleeping sickness is caused by parasites that are transmitted by infected tsetse flies and is only found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. If left untreated sleeping sickness is almost always fatal. In 1995, about 300,000 cases were estimated to have gone undetected, with 60 million people estimated to be at risk of infection. In 2019, fewer than 1,000 cases were found.

Illustration of the life cycle of the trypanosome parasite that causes African sleeping sickness.
Image credit: Genome Research Limited

What are the two forms of sleeping sickness?

There are two forms of sleeping sickness. The first, due to Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, is found in 24 countries in west and central Africa and accounts for more than 98% of cases. The second form, due to Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, is found in 13 countries in eastern and southern Africa and represents the rest of cases. WHO and partners are targeting the elimination as a public health problem of the gambiense form of the disease from all endemic countries by 2030. Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have started the validation process with the support of WHO.

How did Togo eliminate African sleeping sickness?

Togo has not reported any cases in the past 10 years. Togo’s achievement comes after more than two decades of sustained political commitment, surveillance and screening of cases. Beginning in 2000, the country’s public health officials implemented control measures. In 2011, the country established surveillance sites at hospitals in the cities of Mango and Tchamba, which cover the main areas at risk of the disease. Public health officials have since maintained heightened disease surveillance in endemic and at-risk areas. Neighboring countries are not at the same phase and so surveillance must continue to avoid a resurgence of this disease.

Togo first applied for certification of elimination of sleeping sickness in 2018 and a team of WHO experts studied the data, made recommendations and requested a revision by the country before giving their approval. A WHO-led global collaboration supported these efforts by facilitating the donation of medicines and resources from pharmaceutical companies, which helped strengthen local capacity and ensure the sustained availability of tools required to control the disease. Wiping out the gambiense form of sleeping sickness will require maintaining the commitment of endemic countries and of donors, as well as integrating control and surveillance activities into the regular health systems.

Ebola cases drop as food crisis is sparked

The World Health Organization reports a drop in the Ebola cases in the three Western African countries hit most by the disease. However, as farmers abandon their fields in the infected areas, a new problem seems to emerge: a food crisis.

Many agricultural fields have been abandoned as people retreat from Ebola. Image via World Bank.

Liberia only reported 48 cases in the past three weeks, but Sierra Leone is still struggling, with 769 new cases over the past 21 days. But even that is a decline compared to previous months.

“Sierra Leone has now reported a decline in case incidence for the second week running, and recorded its lowest weekly total of new confirmed cases since the week ending 31 August 2014,” WHO said.

This is not the first Ebola outbreak ever, but it’s the first time over 500 people were infected in one outbreak. The official number of infections is 21,261, though the likely number is much higher. However, as the number of Ebola cases seems to dwindle down, a new problem starts to emerge – a food shortage.

The International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), a UN body that finances agriculture in poor countries has warned that if quick action isn’t taken soon, a food crisis is set to take place in the area. As early as September 2014 the Liberian government reported that large parts of the rice crop could not be harvested because of a shortage of labor. People are abandoning the infected areas – and for good reason.

“In Sierra Leone, we have information that up to 40% of farms in the hardest-hit areas have been abandoned,” IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze told Africa Renewal. In Guinea, similar disruptions in population movements have had “devastating effects on food production and exports”.

Agriculture is one of the main drivers of the West African economy, contributing up to 40% to the total economy. It’s also the main form of subsistence for the poorest people, who have no other way of supporting themselves.

It’s estimated that for the 90,000 households in dire need of help, some $30 million would be needed to alleviate the effects of the upcoming crisis.