What is Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT)?

By Michelle Marion Apio

Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), also known as sleeping sickness, is a vector-borne disease caused by protozoan parasites of the genus Trypanosoma. It is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tsetse fly. HAT is endemic in 36 sub-Saharan African countries, including Uganda.

What is the situation of HAT in Uganda?

Uganda is one of the few countries in Africa where both forms of HAT are endemic: Trypanosoma brucei gambiense (TbG) and Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense (Tbr). TbG is the most common form of HAT in Uganda, and is responsible for over 90% of cases. Tbr is a more acute and aggressive form of HAT, and is associated with a higher mortality rate.

In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the number of HAT cases reported in Uganda. This is due to a number of factors, including increased surveillance and screening, improved access to treatment, and vector control measures. However, HAT remains a public health problem in Uganda, and there is a continued need for vigilance and control efforts.

The number of HAT cases reported in Uganda has declined significantly in recent years. In 2000, over 4,000 cases of HAT were reported. This number declined to below 1,000 cases in 2018, and has remained below that threshold since then.

What are the symptoms of HAT?

The early symptoms of HAT are mild and non-specific, and can include fever, headache, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, the parasites invade the central nervous system, leading to neurological symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, and sleep disturbances. In the late stage of the disease, patients may experience coma and death.

How is HAT diagnosed and treated?

HAT is diagnosed by microscopic examination of blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples. Treatment is complex and requires specialized medications. The type of treatment used depends on the stage of the disease and the subspecies of the parasite involved.

What can be done to prevent HAT?

There is no vaccine available for HAT, so prevention is essential. People living in or visiting areas where HAT is endemic should take precautions to avoid being bitten by tsetse flies. This includes wearing protective clothing, using insect repellent, and avoiding areas where tsetse flies are known to be present.

HAT is a neglected tropical disease, which means that it receives relatively little attention and funding from the global health community.

HAT disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities in rural areas.

HAT can have a devastating impact on individuals and families, and can lead to social and economic disruption.

What can you do to help?

You can help to raise awareness of HAT and support efforts to control the disease by donating to organizations that are working to eliminate HAT.

You can also advocate for increased funding for research and development of new tools and strategies to prevent and treat HAT.

Written with the help of A.I. 

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