LSTM part of a partnership looking at new models to fight sleeping sickness in DRC

23 Sep 2015

LSTM, with partners the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp (ITM) and Memisa Belgium will spearhead a new and more sustainable approach to fight sleeping sickness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The work follows the awarding of a $5 Million funding grant made to ITM from The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation to develop a new model to fight the disease.

Intensive screen-and-treat campaigns by mobile teams have helped to reduce the number of new cases of sleeping sickness (or Human African Trypanosomiasis), which reached epidemic proportions by the end of the 20th century, to below 10,000 annually. Currently, sleeping sickness is under control in most of the affected areas in DRC. However, if control efforts are reduced, the disease would inevitably flare up again, as past experiences have shown. Now that the disease is on the retreat a new and more sustainable control approach, integrated in the general healthcare services, is urgently needed.

The project will develop model health districts in Mosango and Yasa Bonga in the Bandundu province of the DRC. The control of sleeping sickness and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) will be fully integrated in the existing district health services. To achieve this goal, the project will strengthen the overall functioning of district health services and implement disease-specific control measures through active and passive case finding and vector control. The involvement of communities will play an important role.

The project will make use of new options in the fight against sleeping sickness. In recent years innovations in diagnostic tools, such as rapid diagnostic tests, offer new opportunities to improve screening for the disease. Furthermore, since sleeping sickness is transmitted from man to man by the tsetse fly, targeting this fly is another way to control the disease. So far vector control efforts in the DRC have shown their worth but recently a new and much more effective tool has become available, so-called ‘tiny targets’. These are small insecticide-treated screens that attract tsetse flies and kill them.

Each of the project partners will contribute with its specific expertise. Memisa Belgium will support the strengthening of the existing healthcare services. LSTM will implement the novel method of vector control using ‘tiny targets’, while ITM will put in practice a targeted system of active and passive sleeping sickness case detection using rapid diagnostic tests. The project will be closely coordinated with local partners in the DRC, in particular the national sleeping sickness control program (PNLTHA), the School of Public Health from Lubumbashi and the district health authorities. The project will be implemented starting 1 October 2014.