The University of Greenwich

Tackling sleeping sickness in Africa

Sleeping sickness, spread by tsetse fly, is rife in Africa, threatening over 60 million people in 36 countries. Without treatment, the disease is fatal. There have been three severe epidemics of sleeping sickness in Africa over the last century, with the last one beginning in 1970 and still in progress. Every year, sleeping sickness and nagana – a similar disease afflicting livestock – kills 30,000 people and two million cattle.

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Scientists at the NRI helped develop the ‘artificial cow’ which mimics the smell, shape and colour of a real cow; by impregnating the ‘cow’ with insecticide, tsetse can be lured to their death. Currently, NRI scientists are undertaking research to identify even better artificial baits designed specifically to control the species of tsetse which spread sleeping sickness. Instead of using artificial cows, farmers can also treat their cattle with insecticide to control tsetse. A team led by Professor Stephen Torr was shortlisted for the Times Higher ‘Research Project of the Year’ Award for showing how this method can be made cheaper, safer and more effective. The findings of this research have been translated into practical schemes with the help of an interactive programme – a ‘virtual entomologist’ – to help livestock farmers and NGOs plan operations against tsetse. £20,000 would allow the NRI, allied with a partner, to provide enough insecticide to control sleeping sickness in ten villages in Uganda for a year; £50,000 over a year would allow the initiation and development of a sustainable, community-based programme that would control tsetse and tick-borne disease in twenty villages; £500,000 over three years could support a programme to eliminate sleeping sickness and nagana from 100 villages; £5,000,000 over five years could support a major tsetse control programme that would eliminate tsetse from 20,000 km2, an area approximately the size of Wales.