Human African trypanosomiasis

Project portfolio

Research Catalyse development Guide use and policy Accelerate Access
Specimen banking Screening Screening & case confirmation projects (passive & active) Implementation of HAT diagnostics
Case confirmation
Enabling Environment
TPPs & NTD need prioritization Advocacy with community and health personnel

Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness, is a parasitic disease caused by protozoan parasites of the Genus Trypanosoma. The disease is transmitted by tsetse flies, and is found in low-income, rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa.

The disease presents in two forms depending on the sub-species of the infecting parasite:

  • Chronic infection, which accounts for 98% of reported cases and has a long latency period—people can be infected for years without becoming symptomatic.
  • Acute infection, which is more virulent than the chronic form and manifests within weeks or months of infection.

In the early or first stage of illness, the disease causes non-specific symptoms and generally goes undiagnosed. The late stage is associated with invasion of the brain by parasites, which ultimately causes death if left untreated. Early diagnosis is critical: after the disease has advanced to the second stage, treatment procedures are complicated and risky.

In recent years, concerted efforts in surveillance and control of HAT have achieved impressive success. The WHO goal of eliminating the disease by 2020 is now more realistic than ever.

The diagnostic landscape
Strategic approach

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Current screening strategies have an unsatisfactory sensitivity and require heavy logistics. This means that a significant number of HAT cases remain undetected, and that only a small fraction of the at-risk population is tested.

FIND has prioritized:
1. development and introduction of a second generation RDT
2. development and introduction of an RDT for simultaneous detection of HAT and malaria

1. 2nd generation RDT
2. HAT-malaria combo RDT

Confirmation of HAT cases is a necessity because the treatments that are currently available are relatively complicated to administer and can sometimes cause significant side-effects. Current confirmatory methods are either insensitive, labour-intensive or not widely available because of production and logistical constraints.

Extra efforts are needed to develop and introduce new tools that are more sensitive and easier to implement, so that cases can be detected more efficiently and more widely.


A number of implementation projects to introduce new diagnostic tools and strategies that have been recently made available have been initiated by national control programmes of HAT endemic countries, FIND and other partners. These capacity building projects include strengthening of health facilities, installation of solar energy, procurement of laboratory equipment and consumables, training of personnel, quality assurance, advocacy and sensitization of communities. In addition, they are expected to significantly contribute to accelerating elimination of HAT by facilitating early detection of cases and preventing transmission of the disease.

Implementation projects are currently ongoing in Uganda, Malawi, Guinea, Chad, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Kongo Central (formerly the Bas-Congo province of the DRC, the north of Angola and the south of the Republic of Congo). For detailed information and updates, visit the project page linked in the button below.

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