Sleeping sickness reaches epidemic proportions in Congo Brazzaville

The disease has struck over four percent of the population around the provincial capital of Gamboma and on the west bank of the River Congo. The generally accepted norm for an epidemic of sleeping sickness is two percent. It is difficult to gauge how long the epidemic has been spreading given that the (originally successful) government programme to combat the disease has been non-operational since 1993. Outbreaks of civil war after this date have gradually brought a halt to active control and treatment. Sleeping sickness is endemic in large swathes of Congo Brazzaville. Since last April, some 300 sufferers have been admitted to hospitals in Brazzaville and Gamboma and to health centres in Mpouya and Makotipoko, both in the Plateaux province. At present MSF is only treating patients that it encounters in the course of its research. The MSF research programme began last September. Training was provided for medical personnel who would be involved in studies of the disease and the treatment of patients. A research and treatment centre was re-opened in Gamboma. In April 2001, patients could be screened and treated at the centre for the first time in five years. MSF started its research in the region in May. A specially equipped boat visits villages along the river. The inhabitants of the villages and the surrounding areas have been asked to take part in the study and a total of 300,000 people will be screened.