Africa: Togo is First African Country to End Sleeping Sickness as a Public Health Problem


Brazzaville — Togo has received validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eliminated human African trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem, becoming the first country in Africa to reach this milestone.

Sleeping sickness is caused by parasites which are transmitted by infected tsetse flies and is only found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. If left untreated sleeping sickness is almost always fatal. In 1995, about 25 000 cases were detected, about 300 000 cases were estimated to have gone undetected, with 60 million people estimated to be at risk of infection. In 2019, fewer than 1000 cases were found. Togo has not reported any cases in the past 10 years.

Togo’s achievement comes after more than two decades of sustained political commitment, surveillance and screening of cases. Beginning in 2000, the country’s public health officials implemented control measures. In 2011, the country established surveillance sites at hospitals in the cities of Mango and Tchamba, which cover the main areas at risk of the disease. Public health officials have since maintained heightened disease surveillance in endemic and at-risk areas.

Togo first applied for certification of elimination of sleeping sickness in 2018 and a team of WHO experts studied the data, made recommendations and requested a revision by the country before giving their approval.

“This validation makes Togo the first country in Africa to have eliminated human African trypanosomiasis or sleeping sickness,” said Hon Moustafa Mijiyawa, Minister of Health and Public Hygiene. “Thanks to the joint efforts of all health actors, the disease has been eliminated in Togo. Neighbouring countries are not at the same phase and so surveillance must continue to avoid a resurgence of this disease.”

A WHO-led global collaboration supported these efforts by facilitating the donation of medicines and resources from pharmaceutical companies, which helped strengthen local capacity and ensure the sustained availability of tools required to control the disease.