The objective of the World Bank-funded project is to eliminate the neglected tropical disease.
An ambitious programme to strengthen diagnostic and community outreach capacities, designed to facilitate access to medicines and eliminate sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was approved by the Ministry of Health’sHealth System Strengthening for Better Maternal and Child Health Results Project (PDSS).
This project will be implemented by the Swiss medical research NGO, DNDi (Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative), in close collaboration with the National Sleeping Sickness Control Programme (NSSCP). The project’s budget is USD 2.5 million (4.9 billion Congolese francs), provided by the World Bank through PDSS.
The project was officially launched this Tuesday in Kinshasa by Dr Cleophas If Malaba, Acting Secretary General for Health, in the presence of Mr Chirac Bulanga Milemba, DNDi’s Country Operations Manager in the DRC, and Dr Dominique Baabo Kubuya, PDSS coordinator, as well as several other sleeping sickness control partners in the DRC.
Following clinical trials conducted by DNDi and its partners, the very first oral treatment for sleeping sickness – the effective, easy-to-administer, and well tolerated new drug fexinidazole – received marketing authorisation in the DRC in December 2018.
“Although considerable progress has been made over the past few years in human African trypanosomiasis control, much remains to be done. A new drug, even if it is revolutionary, is of no use if people do not come in for testing,” explained Mr Chirac Bulanga Milemba. “Thus, this project will help improve access to screening and healthcare tools for the communities most affected by this life-threatening disease. This is a crucial step towards achieving complete elimination of sleeping sickness in the DRC.”
In the absence of treatment, sleeping sickness is usually fatal. Almost 8.5 million people in Africa face a moderate to very high risk of infection. The DRC accounts for the majority of cases, with almost 85% of notified cases.
The project will last 16 months. It will facilitate patient access to medicines by strengthening diagnostic capacities in 14 health zones in six provinces: Kwilu, Maï-Ndombe, Western Kasai, Kasai, Central Kasai, and Lomami.
“Extensive outreach to local communities will also be conducted to raise awareness of the dangers associated with sleeping sickness, and to inform them of the existence of the new fexinidazole treatment, available at no cost in the healthcare system of the affected regions,” explained Dr Dominique Baabo Kubuya, PDSS coordinator.
In his speech delivered during the launch of the project, the Acting Secretary General for Health, Dr Cleophas If Malaba, highlighted the Ministry of Health’s determination to improve the country’s healthcare system, reiterating that this is one of the government’s priorities.
DNDi will collaborate with the Ministry of Health through the NSSCP, the provincial health authorities, the National Institute of Medical Research (INRB), and several partners, including the Institute of Tropical Medicine Antwerp, to strengthen the sleeping sickness control capacities of local health systems; strengthen community engagement in sleeping sickness monitoring and control; and circulate knowledge related to the sleeping sickness programme activities.
Over 400 health workers will receive training in screening and case management. In the 14 health zones, 80% of the target population will have access to a sleeping sickness test performed less than 5 km from their home. The objective is to triple the proportion of patients (from 15 to 45%) who decide to go of their own accord to a health facility for screening.
The project will run through 15 December 2021.
The Health System Strengthening for Better Maternal and Child Health Results Project (PDSS) is a public health project created in 2015 by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to increase the efficiency and efficacy of the health system and improve human development outcomes.
DNDi (The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) in a non-profit medical research organisation established in 2003 by Médecins Sans Frontières to address the needs of patients suffering from neglected diseases. Since its inception, DNDi has developed treatments for malaria, sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and paediatric HIV. It recently participated in the launch of a coalition to accelerate research on COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries. DNDi would like to thank all of its donors, public and private, who support its work and who have helped fund the research which led to the development of fexinidazole.
About sleeping sickness
Sleeping sickness, or human African trypanosomiasis, is usually fatal without treatment. Transmitted by the bite of a tsetse fly, following a period with nonspecific symptoms, it evolves to cause neuropsychiatric symptoms, including abnormal behaviour, and a debilitating disruption of sleep patterns that have given this neglected disease its name. About 8.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are at moderate to very high risk.
In Kinshasa: Sandrine Francine Ngalula firstname.lastname@example.org
In Geneva: Frédéric Ojardias email@example.com
Photo credit: Kenny Mbala-DNDi