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Med Trop (Mars). 2001;61(4-5):437-40.

[Control of human African trypanosomiasis: back to square one].

[Article in French]

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Bureau CDS/CSR, OMS, avenue Appia, 1211 Genève 27, Suisse.


The natural history of sleeping sickness is cyclic. The first epidemic outbreak in the 19th century devastated the population and resolved spontaneously for lack of victims. Intensive development during the colonial period and the movement of population that it spawned led to another epidemic in the early 1920s that reached such severe proportions that drastic steps had to be taken. At that time, Jamot was given complete political, administrative, and financial freedom to combat the disease. This program led to the development of the mobile team concept and so-called vertically structured vector control strategy and was so successful that sleeping sickness ceased to be considered as a major public health problem at the beginning of the 1960s. In the ensuing years sleeping sickness was largely neglected. Monitoring the disease required specialized teams that were no longer considered as cost-effective. One by one the measures that had been implemented to control the disease disappeared, thus setting the scene for a new outbreak grew. In 1995, the incidence of sleeping sickness reached the same levels as in the 1920s. The current situation is a classic example of a neglected disease with a paucity of competent specialists, diagnostic tests, effective drugs, and operational facilities. It was not until 2001 that new hope appeared thanks to a combined public- and private-sector initiative allowing restructuring of treatment teams, renovation of facilities, free distribution of drugs, and research to develop new therapeutic agents. Also thanks to the PATTEC initiative, the governments of the African affected nations are showing new in interest in sleeping sickness. However the battle is far from won and much effort will be required. Time is running out and the stakes are high.

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