UN health agency, drug company team up to fight sleeping sickness in Africa

UN health agency, drug company team up to fight sleeping sickness in Africa

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and a major pharmaceutical company today announced a major step forward in combating African Trypanosomiasis, better known as sleeping sickness.

In a statement issued in Geneva and Frankfurt, WHO said Aventis Pharma AG, the pharmaceutical company of Aventis, had committed $25 million to support the agency's activities in the field of African Trypanosomiasis over a five-year period. The project involves three related efforts - drug donation, disease management, and research and development.

"We can now look forward to halting the spread of sleeping sickness," said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO Director-General. "As we increase surveillance, treatment and research, there is now reason to hope that we can better control this disease. We are deeply gratified by the impressive commitment of Aventis to this cause. We hope that others, inspired by our work, will join us, as much remains to be done."

Richard J. Markham, Chief Executive Officer of Aventis Pharma, said his company was "delighted" to have forged the partnership with the WHO and to play an important role in combating the disease. "This partnership is an example of a public-private partnership wanting to find viable solutions for life-threatening diseases," he said.

Human African Trypanosomiasis is becoming increasingly more prevalent after it had been close to being eliminated in the early 1960s. It is a parasitic infection transmitted by the tsetse fly. Eventually, it affects the central nervous system, causing severe neurological disorders. If left untreated, it invariably causes the death of the person affected.

It is estimated that only about 10 per cent of those suffering from this disease currently receive proper treatment. A number of reasons, including armed conflicts in endemic countries as well as the higher visibility of other diseases in the international community, have led to a dramatic decrease in systematic population screening, which is necessary to control the disease.