What is Sleeping Sickness?


In 2014, there were 3,796 cases
1,264,000 DALYs [1]
21 million people at risk

Usually fatal if left untreated
Displacement of populations, war, and poverty lead to increased transmission, with severe social and economic consequences.
Some areas are still not covered by surveillance and control efforts.

Large proportions of communities can be affected by Human African Trypanosomiasis – also known as sleeping sickness – with serious social and economic consequences. Epidemics at the end of the 20th century infected up to 50% of the population in several villages across rural Africa.



Of the 36 countries considered endemic for sleeping sickness, the 7 most affected countries represent 97% of all reported cases (see map). The Democratic Republic of Congo accounted for 89% of all reported cases in 2013. Sleeping sickness primarily occurs in the poorest, most rural areas in Africa, where difficulty of diagnosis, political instability, and lack of health surveillance make estimates of disease prevalence difficult to ascertain.



Transmitted by the parasite Trypanosoma brucei (T. b.) to humans by tsetse flies, sleeping sickness is caused by two sub-species of the kinetoplastid protozoan parasite: T. b. gambiense (West and Central Africa), T. b. rhodesiense (East Africa).


Sleeping sickness occurs in two stages:

  • stage 1 – the haemolymphatic phase – includes non-specific symptoms like headaches and bouts of fever (generally goes undiagnosed without active sleeping sickness surveillance).
  • stage 2 – the later, neurologic phase – occurs when the parasite crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and can lead to serious sleep cycle disruptions, paralysis, progressive mental deterioration, and, ultimately, results in death without effective treatment.


Patient Treatment Needs

A safe, effective, and orally administered stage 2 treatment is needed that improves and simplifies current case management. This drug should ideally work in both stages of the disease.



HAT_factsheet_cover_mini DNDi Human African Trypanosomiasis Fact-sheet




[1] Global Burden of Disease 2012: http://www.who.int/entity/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GHE_DALY_WHOReg6_2000_2012.xls