A safer and cheaper drug is on its way to African countries where 60 million people are at risk from the deadly bite of the tsetse fly.
Scientists working for a nonprofit research and development organization have just produced the first new treatment for sleeping sickness in 25 years.
Current treatments require large doses to be carefully administered to infected patients over long periods of time and at frequent intervals, making it very difficult to transport and dispense the medication to people in remote parts of Africa, who were also the most likely to need it. Due to the difficulties presented by that approach, an alternative medicine is used by overburdened and under-resourced health workers in much of Africa, but that drug is so toxic that it kills 5 percent of patients.
The latest advancement, which was announced this week by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), will cut the cost of treatment in half and be much easier to transport to remote locations. The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) is already preparing to send free kits to endemic regions and train health workers on how to administer the treatment.
Because the new treatment can be dispensed more easily and carried farther from primary health centers in major cities, it will also decrease the burden of transporting sick friends and relatives long distances to seek help — an insurmountable obstacle for many African families living on $2 a day or less.
The new drug is expected to be in use within a few months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the epicenter of the disease, as well as in the Central African Republic and Chad.