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New Treatment for Sleeping Sickness

The new treatment is more effective, less costly and has fewer side effects. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

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The World Health Organization is using a new combination of drugs to treat human African trypanosomiasis disease, also known as sleeping sickness. The drugs nifurtimox and eflornithine will be given out in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Officials from the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative say the new treatment has fewer side effects. It is also more effective and less costly than the drugs traditionally used. In addition, the new treatment reduces the number of injections needed. And it shortens the amount of time patients must spend in the hospital.

Sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in thirty-six countries in Africa. Most live in poor rural areas. The disease is caused by the trypanosoma parasite. It is spread to humans through the bite of infected tsetse flies.

Common signs of sleeping sickness include fever, headaches, extreme tiredness and pain in the muscles and joints. Early identification of the disease may be difficult because many infected people do not show any immediate symptoms.

Over time, the parasites invade the central nervous system. The disease causes sleep disorders, mental confusion, personality changes, speech problems, seizures and coma. If left untreated, sleeping sickness kills.

The World Health Organization estimates that about sixty thousand people are currently infected with the disease. It develops in two different forms. Trypanosoma gambiense is responsible for ninety percent of the reported cases of sleeping sickness. People infected with this form may develop the disease over many years without any major symptoms. The disease develops more quickly over a few weeks or months in people infected with trypanosoma rhodesiense.

Until now the drug melarsoprol was used to treat patients in the advanced stage of sleeping sickness.

But the drug requires many painful injections several times a day for several weeks. It also causes bad side effects, some of which can be deadly.

In Uganda, a new study has confirmed earlier research linking the spread of sleeping sickness to infected farm animals. The writers of the study have called for stronger rules requiring cattle to be treated before being sold at market. The study was published in the Public Library of Science.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.