Belgium and Gates Foundation to ‘wipe out’ sleeping sickness


Federal minister Alexander De Croo and the Gates Foundation are collaborating on a €50 million investment in Congo to eradicate African trypanosomiasis once and for all

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Federal minister of development co-operation Alexander De Croo and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced the ambition to eradicate sleeping sickness by 2025. The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp will co-ordinate a programme.

De Croo and the American foundation announced their collaboration yesterday at a congress in Geneva focused on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD). Belgium will invest €25.3 million, said De Croo, which will be doubled by the Gates Foundation.

Sleeping sickness is an NTD, a tropical infection common among populations in developing regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Medically known as African trypanosomiasis, it is caused by a parasite spread by the tsetse fly. The disease is found mostly in the rural areas of east, west and central Africa.

If not treated, it attacks the central nervous system, leading to death. Currently, some 20,000 people worldwide are infected with the parasite that causes the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

About 85% of new cases are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the new programme will focus on this country. The ITM has many years of experience in dealing with sleeping sickness and working in Congo, the former Belgian colony.

In 2016, Belgium and the Gates Foundation also allocated €2.5 million each to battle sleeping sickness. “The sustainable effort of Belgium to eradicate sleeping sickness in Congo is one of the best examples of the progress we have made in dealing with NTDs,” said Bill Gates at the congress.

Photo, from left: WHO director-general Margaret Chan, Alexander De Croo and Bill Gates