Over 300 participants from various parts of Africa are gathering in Kenya this week to address the issue of African Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness or Nagana. This disease is responsible for more than 50,000 deaths each year, and over 65 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are currently at risk of contracting it.

These discussions are taking place during the five-day 36th General Conference of the International Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control (ISCTRC), held in Mombasa. The conference brings together stakeholders from 38 tsetse-infested African Union (AU) Member States, including disease control workers, scientists, researchers, and key representatives.

African Trypanosomiasis has severe consequences for both human and livestock health, limits land use, and perpetuates poverty, presenting a significant barrier to the continent’s growth and development. The fight against this disease is led by the International Scientific Council for Trypanosomiasis Research and Control (ISCTRC), a critical part of the African Union Commission. International organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are expected to participate in the conference.

The AU’s InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources is urging unity in eradicating Tsetse flies. Other organizations involved include ICIPE, FIND, DNDi, Regional Economic Communities, and private sector players, according to the African Union-InterAfrican Bureau for Animal Resources.

Trypanosomiasis affects 38 countries across 10 million square kilometers, with approximately 2,804 human cases reported in 2015. Around 50 million cattle are at risk, with 35 million trypanocide doses used and 3 million cattle deaths reported annually. Agricultural production losses due to trypanosomiasis are estimated at US$ 5 billion per year.

The ISCTRC Conference aims to facilitate the exchange of information on tsetse, human, and animal trypanosomiasis, review existing control strategies, and suggest appropriate research and control approaches. It promises to be a collaborative event fostering an exchange of knowledge, expertise, and strategies to combat the disease and its impact on Africa’s development.

Kenya, as the host country, continues to raise awareness through information sharing, while scientists review control strategies and recommend appropriate research and control measures.

At the conference’s conclusion, the Council will adopt recommendations to guide research and control efforts related to tsetse and trypanosomiasis for the next two years. The outcomes of the conference are expected to significantly improve livelihoods in regions heavily affected by tsetse and trypanosomiasis.

Sleeping sickness can be fatal if not treated promptly, with the parasite migrating to the brain and causing damage to organs that control sleep. While Kenya has eliminated sleeping sickness as a public health problem, efforts are ongoing to ensure its complete eradication by 2030 in most African countries, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). This definition entails less than one case in 10,000 individuals per year for the last five years.