Human African trypanosomiasis

Human African Trypanosomiasis: Better treatment opportunity

16 September 09 | Geneva

© Vestergaard Frandsen

A combination of drugs may provide a better treatment opportunity for thousands of people suffering from the second stage of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness.

In April 2009, WHO included a combination of nifurtimox and eflornithine in its essential list of medicines, which is expected to produce better results and lessen the duration of treatment.

Millions of people in Africa risk infection from human African trypanosomiasis. The disease is endemic in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tsetse fly which is found only in this region of the world.

The most vulnerable live in remote rural areas with inadequate and weak health systems, particularly those who depend on farming, fishing, animal husbandry and hunting.

Untreated, human African trypanosomiasis is fatal. Until recently two drugs were used to treat the disease: melarsoprol and eflornithine.

The first, melarsoprol was widely used as it is easy to administer whereas eflornithine, although better tolerated, was costly and its use involved complicated, cumbersome practices.

Play now audio summary–Human African trypanosomiasis
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" … we have succeeded in reducing the use of melarsoprol and substantially increase the use of eflornithine … [the new drug combination will] hopefully facilitate the use of eflornithine."

Dr. Pere Perez Simarro, Medical Officer, Human African Trypanosomiasis


" The most vulnerable persons … are those … in the rural remote areas difficult to access …. the economic loss is colossal .. they will not till their land, they will not harvest … this will jeopardize their income severely"

Dr. Abbas Kakembo, Coordinator, Human African Trypanosomiasis Control, Uganda


" … Bayer … Pharma has committed itself to supply 400 000 tablets per year of the drug lampit … over a period of five years for this new combination therapy of eflornithine and nifurtimox."

Dr. Ulrich-Dietmar Madeja, Executive Director, Social Health Care Programme, Bayer Health Care


" … Sanofi Aventis is providing WHO with free drugs … [and] cash in order to enable WHO to do training, better diagnostics … in countries where the disease is endemic … "

Mireille Cayreyre, Associate Vice President, Access to Medicine, Sanofi Aventis

View DNDi documentary: Nifurtimox-Eflornithine Combination Theraphy (NECT)

Video: "Survival — The Deadliest Disease", BBC World News, 2008.

Fact sheet N°259

If you need more information please visit the NTD web site on human African trypanosomiasis: human African trypanosomiasis website or send an e-mail to: simarrop@who.int