GHANA –  Ghana has eliminated gambiense Human African Trypanosomiasis, commonly known as Sleeping Sickness, as a disease of public health concern.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a tweet, congratulated the government, health workers and communities for working towards the elimination of the disease.

“This is a historic achievement, proving once again that with dedication and team work we can,” he said in the tweet.

In West Africa, Togo in 2020 received validation from the 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 a vector-borne parasitic disease. It is caused by infection with protozoan parasites belonging to the genus Trypanosoma.

They are transmitted to humans by tsetse fly (Glossina genus) bites, which have acquired their infection from human beings or from animals harbouring human pathogenic parasites.

The disease is found in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and untreated sleeping sickness is almost always fatal.

The people most exposed to the tsetse fly and to the disease live in rural areas and depend on agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry or hunting with limited access to adequate health services.

The disease is transmitted through Mother-to-child infection, where trypanosome can cross the placenta and infect the foetus. It is also transferred through mechanical transmission through other blood-sucking insects.

Accidental infections have occurred in laboratories due to pricks with contaminated needles. Transmission of the parasite through sexual contact has also been reported.

Ghana Health Service seeks sustainable financing

The Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) Programme of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) has called for a sustained financing and cross-sectoral approaches to fight the menace in the country.

The lack of resources, the Programme notes, has become a significant barrier to the control, elimination, and eradication of NTDs in the country.

Explaining why the Programme is calling for sustained financing and investment in NTDs, the Deputy Programme Manager, Dr Joseph Kwadwo Larbi Opare, said ending NTDs will make our health systems more resilient and our world a more equitable and safer place.

For him, by bringing renewed attention to NTDs, building political will and mobilising resources, and putting individuals and communities at the centre of the response, “we can collectively generate the attention and resources needed to deliver against the targets outlined in the WHO 2030 NTD road map and SDG3.”

He explained that investing in NTD programmes would create a ripple effect in society, adding that “it leads to better education, health, and employment outcomes, and transforms lives and communities.”

In addition, he observed, investing in NTD programmes would equally help to reduce gender inequity, stigma, and preventable mortality and morbidity, pointing out that “the case for investment is clear.”

He further observed that addressing NTDs requires cross-sectoral approaches that span from bringing medicines to the ‘end of the road’ – thus making universal health coverage a reality, relieving the associated mental health burden, and tackling fundamental human rights issues.

In addition, he explained, NTDs are endemic in poor communities and promotes poverty and intense stigma.

Dr. Opare called on all stakeholders, particularly duty bearers to join the fight in their various capacities to help the country to become free from NTDs.

The term NTDs is used to describe a group of 20 communicable diseases that prevail in tropical and subtropical countries and affect more than one billion people globally, according to the statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The 20 NTDs are Buruli ulcer; Chagas disease; dengue and chikungunya; dracunculiasis; echinococcosis; foodborne trematodiases; human African trypanosomiasis; leishmaniasis; leprosy; lymphatic filariasis; mycetoma, chromoblastomycosis and other deep mycoses.

Other NTDs include onchocerciasis; rabies; scabies and other ectoparasitoses; schistosomiasis; soil-transmitted helminthiases; snakebite envenoming; taeniasis/cysticercosis; trachoma; and yaws.

Of the 20 NTDs identified by the WHO, 14 are found in Ghana, prominent among them being Trachoma; Buruli ulcer; Yaws; Leprosy; Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT or sleeping sickness); Leishmaniases; Lymphatic filariasis; Onchocerciasis (river blindness); Schistosomiasis, and Soil-transmitted helminthiases.

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