African trypanosomiasis also known as sleeping sickness is one Neglected Tropical Disease that is affecting many in Nigeria. However, it seems like it is not getting enough awareness as it should.

According to an article by The Conversation, it revealed that Nigeria particularly is challenged by Neglected Tropical diseases (NTD) and that a quarter of the people affected by NTD in Africa live in Nigeria.

The World Health Organization (WHO), disclosed that Sleeping sickness is prevalent in several countries in western, southern, and central Africa.

Additionally, the global body also noted that between 1999 and 2033, the reported cases of the chronic form of human African Trypanosomiasis (T.B. gambiense) fell by 97% from 27,862 to 799.

Sleeping sickness is caused by tsetse fly (glossing species) which is found only in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This life-threatening disease is caused by infection with the parasite Trypanosoma which can end the lives of its victims if not treated early.

The WHO also explained that the protozoan Trypanosoma Brucei is transmitted to humans by bites of tsetse flies which have acquired the parasites from infected humans or animals.

The College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, revealed that no fewer than 500 cases of sleeping sickness per year are recorded in Nigeria.

Although the disease might take a while before it is diagnosed. Signs might take months or maybe years. However, if left untreated, it might lead to Patients’ loss of lives.

When a person gets infected by the deadly disease, the parasite crosses the blood-brain barrier affecting the central nervous system.

Symptoms may include fever and weakness at the early stage of the disease. It might take time before Infected persons even show symptoms at all.

If left untreated, the disease progresses to an advanced stage which might include symptoms such as neurological and psychiatric symptoms such as confusion, lethargy, sleeping disruptions, convulsions, high fevers, headaches, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, seizures, and stiffness of the neck.

Patients are advised to treat immediately after symptoms are realized as it can become fatal if patients do not treat it.

While speaking on the symptoms of the life-threatening disease, a physician and former National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Prof. Tanimola Akande, disclosed blood in urine, headaches, aching muscles and joints also indicate the presence of sleeping sickness.

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“In the second stage, the lymph node enlargement is worsened and then the disease affects the central nervous system, leading to changes in personality, confusion, slurred speech, seizures and difficulty in walking and talking. It is called sleeping sickness because it disturbs sleep patterns.

“These problems can develop over many years and if not treated, it can lead to death,” he said.

Sleeping sickness can be contracted through insect bites (the bites of infected tsetse flies), mother-to-child transmission; from birth or as a result of breastfeeding, and sexual contact with an infected person.

Also, diagnosing patients with sleeping sickness might be quite shady because some symptoms do not show up early. However, patients can be diagnosed by carrying out tests to confirm the presence of the parasite in any body fluid, usually in the blood and lymph system through the use of a microscope.

However, the Centre For Disease Control (CDC) notes that the disease is curable and can be treated by taking oral therapy called fexinidazole, as well as using anti-parasite and enzyme inhibitors.

However, Prof. Akande noted that preventive measures are the best in ensuring that the disease is not transmitted. He also mentioned that once tsetse fly is dealt with, then Nigeria is close to eradicating the disease.

“If every effort is made to see that we don’t have tsetse fly again, then we can eradicate it.

“We have the Nigerian Institute for Trypanosomiasis Research in Kaduna, involved in producing insecticides that deal with the vector and some other measures are put in place to protect people from getting bitten by the tsetse fly, especially in areas where the tsetse fly is common.” Akande expressed.

The WHO advised that people should take protective measures when spending lots of time outdoors or using game parks as it can also expose the body to bites from tsetse flies.

Additionally, it urged that people wear protective clothes such as a long sleeve or neutral-colored clothing (tsetse flies are usually attracted to bright or dark colors), use bed nets when sleeping, look inside vehicles for tsetse flies before getting into them, avoid bushes, and use insect repellent.

Also, medical experts are saying that proper awareness should be created concerning the disease and financial support/ funding for drugs and material logistics for treatment campaigns to eliminate the disease should be made available.

The government and its stakeholders at all levels should commit to control activities through increased funding.

Prof. Akande also urged members of the public to regularly engage in medical checkups so that the disease can be diagnosed on time with immediate commencement of treatments.