Côte d’Ivoire is now the second African country after Togo to have successfully eliminated human African trypanosomiasis, also known as “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem. The WHO validated this huge success on Thursday.
“I dedicate this milestone to decades of hard work and the individual contribution of every single health worker who braved some of the toughest challenges in reaching populations, often in remote rural areas,” said Dr. Aka Aouele, Minister of Health and Public Hygiene of Cote d’Ivoire. “Our challenge now is to maintain the required level of surveillance and with the help of everyone to achieve interruption of transmission by 2030.”
Cases have progressively declined over the last two decades and in the past few years, the country reported fewer than 10 cases per year. At this low level, it qualifies to have eliminated the disease as a public health problem.
The achievement is attributed to robust control and surveillance measures, active (and passive) screening of people at risk and targeted vector control which helped to strongly decrease the number of cases in areas of transmission. Hospitals and health centres checked patients using specific diagnostic tests and laboratory mobile units screened people in villages.
Treatment of infected people meant that the vector, the tsetse fly, could no longer transmit the disease to others. This had to be maintained over years to progressively eliminate the disease.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa noted Cote d’Ivoire’s achievement marks an important step that brings Africa closer to eliminating sleeping sickness.
Sustained control measures over the past two decades have brought a significant decline in cases – a positive sign that many countries will soon be crossing this landmark as well.
The result which Côte d’Ivoire has achieved after several decades of fighting the human African Trypanosomiasis demonstrates the excellent leadership of the Ministry of Health and Public Hygiene through the directorate of the HAT elimination programme. It is also an expression of the commitment and determination of the regional and departmental health directorates, health workers, communities’ adherence to control measures as well as the power of partnerships.
Two other countries – Benin and Equatorial Guinea – have submitted their dossiers to WHO, seeking validation of elimination as a public health problem.
Under WHO’s leadership, national control programmes, bilateral cooperation agencies and non-governmental organizations have substantially reduced cases of the disease to unprecedented low numbers of less than one thousand globally before 2020.
Sleeping sickness is a potentially fatal disease spread by the bite of an infected tsetse fly, a specie found on the African continent. More than 60 million people in 36 countries who live mainly in rural parts of East, Central, and West Africa are at risk of contracting the disease.