Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung honors project toward combatting “sleeping sickness” with 100,000 euros
Bad Homburg v.d. Höhe, December 3, 2020 – With this year’s Else Kröner Fresenius Award for Development Cooperation in Medicine amounting to EUR 100,000, the Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) foundation is honoring a project dedicated to combatting human African trypanosomiasis – HAT for short – one of the 20 neglected tropical diseases.
1.4 billion people in 149 countries are affected worldwide – by diseases such as elephantiasis, river blindness or schistosomiasis. Each year half a million people die directly or indirectly from neglected tropical diseases – NTDs*. Unlike malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS, merely little attention is paid to researching and combatting them. Most of these diseases have infectious causes and it’s especially the poorest part of the population in developing countries who are frequently affected by them.
“With our award we are honoring people and projects that serve to improve the provision of healthcare in an outstanding way, and this year serve to combat NTDs,” explains Dr Jochen Bitzer, Consultant Medical-Humanitary Funding at EKFS. Based on the recommendations of independent external expert reviewers, an outstanding award-winning project is honored by receiving the Else Kröner Fresenius Award for Development Cooperation in Medicine 2020.
Award-winning project in 2020: Combatting human African trypanosomiasis
Acknowledgment is going to the award-winner Dr Florent Mbo with the project “Sleeping sickness in Africa: Fexinidazole has arrived! Project toward promoting simple access to the new oral medication against sleeping sickness” from the non-profit research organization DNDi, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative.
“In 2005, DNDi co-founded the HAT Platform to help ensure new treatments for sleeping sickness can be rapidly tested, registered, and made available to patients. Now a network of 120 members from 20 institutions, the platform played a central role coordinating clinical trial sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic that tested fexinidazole, a simple, all-oral cure for sleeping sickness that comes in tablet form. Dr Florent Mbo has led the HAT Platform since 2015 and coordinates the scientific, clinical and programmatic exchange of various stakeholders,” Dr Bitzer explains.
Dr Mbo’s perspective as practicing physician working closely with patients, and as an authority with knowledge of the local healthcare structures, has been critical for the project’s success. “Dr Mbo plays a driving role – from coordinating training for healthcare personnel to ensuring that more patients have access to diagnosis and, if tested positive, receive the new oral treatment fexinidazole,” says Dr Nathalie Strub-Wourgaft, Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases, DNDi.
Tsetse fly as disease carrier via parasites (trypanosomes)
Last year more than 62 percent of all cases of human African trypanosomiasis reported were recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It affects some of the poorest and most vulnerable population groups living in remote regions far away from any medical care. The tsetse fly transmits the pathogen by a bite, often in riverine forests or when people wash themselves by a river or get water from it.
The bite of an infected tsetse fly bite can have enormous consequences. The parasites infest the central nervous system and, at an advanced stage, a number of neuropsychiatric manifestations arise: “sleeping sickness” leads to sleeping disorders, including an acute urge to sleep during the daytime and awake phases at night, as well as other severe psychological disorders such as states of anxiety and aggressiveness. When untreated, “sleeping sickness” nearly always leads to the patient’s death.
Supporting sustainable elimination of the disease
In the past patients were only able to be treated on an inpatient basis that involved the administering of intravenous infusions. Side effects occurred, some of which were severe, sometimes fatal. With new tests most patients can now be diagnosed without a painful lumbar puncture (used notably to define the stage of the disease). “The major advantage of fexinidazole is that it eliminates the need for long hospital stays for most patients. The 10-day treatment with pills can take place at home – making treatment easier for patients while reducing disruptions to work and school for their family members, too,” says Dr Strub-Wourgaft.
Access to this new treatment is supposed to continue to be improved further. “By coupling simple oral treatments with easy-to-use tests, we expect that trained nurses will be able to diagnose and treat sleeping sickness in the future. The sustainable elimination of this deadly disease is now within reach,” Dr Florent Mbo is pleased to remark about this success.
Dr. Jochen Bitzer
Am Pilgerrain 15
61352 Bad Homburg v. d. Höhe
Tel. +49 (6172) 8975-26