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IRIN Examines Efforts To Improve Sleeping Sickness Dectection

IRIN examines the efforts of the Geneva-based Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to develop less costly surveillance equipment to improve the ability to detect the parasitic disease trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) in endemic countries. Though “trypanosomiasis can be cured within a week of hospitalization,” left undetected, the disease advances, making it treatable only by medication that “can be toxic in up to 10 percent of patients,” according to Joseph Ndung’u, head of FIND’s trypanosomiasis program.

The article details the difficult process of detecting trypanosomiasis infection and highlights FIND’s efforts to develop a field microscope capable of detecting the parasite at a fraction of the cost and a “molecular detection” system that does not require specialized labs or personnel. IRIN writes: “FIND’s Ndung’u said that while surveillance has improved and helped reduce human deaths, the disease has typically resurged after occasional dips,” with “a more than 30-percent prevalence in some endemic countries” in recent years.

“This sleeping sickness disease is like a sleeping giant,” Ndung’u said. “It goes underreported, especially during periods of conflict, and by the time it receives national attention, a large proportion of the population is infected.” According to Ndung’u, more than 90 percent of known trypanosomiasis infections are currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (7/14).