Professor John Chisi has said the country is moving towards the right direction in research for sleeping sickness which is a complex and big problem as it is difficult to diagnose.
Chisi said this in Blantyre during a briefing ahead of his inauguration lecture on the subject adding his team is currently working on finding new tools of diagnosis like using microscope and molecular technique in dealing with the disease which mostly affects poor people thereby posing a socio-economic challenge in rural areas.
“The World Health Organization defines Sleeping Sickness as a tropical neglected disease in other words the amount of people infected is not many and the people who get infected are usually poor people from rural areas.
“In our country for example, sleeping sickness is mainly found in three districts of Nkhotakota, Kasungu and Rumphi. Nkhotakota registers three to four cases per year; Kasungu registers one to two cases with Rumphi topping the list with 20 to 30 cases a year because of Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve.
“But when you look at those numbers you may think that’s not a problem but the problem is big because people do not know when they get this disease and diagnosis is very difficult and a lot of people get it unnoticed,” said Chisi.
Chisi who described the disease as nasty said the unfortunate thing is that sleeping sickness present itself in many forms including malaria, madness with people ending up at mental hospital, HIV, sleepless nights and even miscarriages in women and diagnosis can be made only when you get sick and consult a doctor outlining their symptoms.
“For diagnosis to be made one has to fall sick and consult a doctor with symptoms like backache, fever, abdominal cramps and you tell a doctor that you have been to Vwaza or Nkhotakota, it is only then that the doctors can have a high index of suspicion,” explained Chisi.
However, the Professor said the current research he is conducting on the disease will help in its management through vaccines and the development of new tools of diagnosis.
“In terms of research in sleeping sickness, Malawi has shown the whole world that we are capable of doing this using the molecular techniques where we are able to identify cases of sleeping sickness.
He said currently they are working on developing new tools that will help in identifying cases and links they have been missing quickly.
“Our ultimate aim is to have sleeping sickness immunizations and with the team we are building right now, in a few years to come, we will be able to have one,” added Chisi.
The inauguration lecture slated for 24 June, 2016 at College of Medicine is titled ‘Using new technologies to control diseases transmitted from animals to humans: The case study of sleeping sickness.’