SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Malteser International, FIND to collaborate on controlling sleeping sickness in South Sudan

Malteser International, a humanitarian relief agency, recently signed a collaborative agreement with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to implement a strategy aimed at controlling sleeping sickness in South Sudan.

Sleeping sickness-also known as human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), which is caused by protozoan parasites in the Trypanosoma genus-affects people in 36 countries where tsetse flies transmit the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 70 percent of reported cases over the past 10 years occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is the only country that has reported more than 1,000 new cases.

Malteser and FIND, along with the government of South Sudan, non-governmental organization Jhpiego and the National Sleeping Sickness Control Program, plan to implement new screening and diagnostic tools into the primary healthcare system.

Though a number of NGOs have previously supported efforts to control the disease, FIND said many have stopped their activities, and health officials suspect that a large number of cases now go undiagnosed and untreated.

The three-year project to reduce infection will cover the states of Central and Western Equatoria, with planned expansion to include other areas, depending on funding and progress.

The southern and southwestern areas of South Sudan, near the borders of Uganda, DRC and Central African Republic, face an endemic of Trypanosoma brucei gambiense HAT.

In 2011 and 2012, the number of cases in South Sudan was 272 and 317, respectively-the third highest numbers behind the DRC and Central African Republic, according to the WHO.

Symptoms of sleeping sickness include fever, headache, joint pain and itching. More progressive cases can show signs of confusion, sensory disturbances, poor coordination, difficulty sleeping and changes in behavior.

Treatment of the disease, according to the WHO, depends on how far it has progressed-drugs used in early stages are less toxic and easier to administer, while drugs used later in infection can cause toxicity.