Moses Ayiri,
African Sleeping Sickness Patient, Uganda

“I'm proud to be able
to think clearly again,
thanks to the treatment.”

African sleeping sickness

Chart: Cycles of african sleepness disease

Global awakening in the fight against African sleeping sickness

Confusion, sensory disturbances, coordination difficulties: patients who suffer from African sleeping sickness gradually lose control of their consciousness and eventually fall into a coma in the final stage of the disease. This insidious infection is caused by single-celled Trypanosoma parasites, which attack the brain and the central nervous system. If left untreated, African sleeping sickness is fatal, although it can be cured with drugs in the early stages.

Chart: One desease - two forms of infection

Figures demonstrate success

The disease threatens millions of people in 36 countries south of the Sahara. The need for action is especially urgent when patients are infected with the parasite Trypanosoma brucei gambiense, the pathogen responsible for 95% of all infections. In this form the disease remains undetected for months or years. By the time the first symptoms appear it is already well advanced, so that treatment is difficult.

Tsetse fly
Tsetse fly

Since 2000 the WHO, assisted by partners, has been working hard to contain African sleeping sickness. Thanks to screening programs and the provision of drugs the number of cases has been declining sharply: the number of new cases reported fell below 10,000 for the first time in 2009; the estimated total number of cases had declined from 300,000 in 1998 to 30,000 in 2009.

Bayer is one of the companies giving the WHO key support in the fight against African sleeping sickness.

Patient, Uganda
© matias boem

Life-saving drugs for the WHO

The widespread West African form of sleeping sickness can now be effectively treated with a therapy combining two active substances: Bayer HealthCare's nifurtimox and eflornithine from another manufacturer. After completion of clinical trials in 2009, the new therapy was added to the WHO's List of Essential Medicines. Since then, Bayer HealthCare has supplied the WHO with 400,000 nifurtimox tablets a year over a period of 5 years.

Doctor, Uganda
© matias boem

In addition, the company has been providing 10,000 ampoules per annum with the active ingredient suramin since 2002, which is also on the WHO's List of Essential Medicines. Suramin is used to treat people infected with the parasite Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense, which occurs mainly in Eastern and Southern Africa. In this case, symptoms already appear in the first stage of the disease – so the therapy can be initiated early. This type of pathogen is responsible for less than 5 percent of cases.

Microsite - Uganda: African sleeping sickness

African sleeping sickness is one of the greatest health challenges in Uganda. The disease not only makes people tired – it kills. Its victims are socially ostracized, and treatment used to involve almost unbearable side effects. Reporter Matias Boem visited the country and talked to patients and family members about living with the disease.


African sleeping sickness is insidious and deadly. Learn more about why it was possible that the almost eradicated disease returned, how it feels to live with the disease and why there is new hope in sight.

Audio: African sleeping sickness - Uganda

Neglected diseases

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Second issue of Brochure: HELPING SUCCESSFULLY Together with strong partners
Uganda: African sleeping sickness
  • Number of cases worldwide: 20,000, according to the WHO's estimate (03/2014)

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