The COVID-19 pandemic is undermining treatment and management of neglected tropical diseases in Africa, a Kenyan scientist said on Tuesday.
Monique Wasunna, Head of Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) in Africa said that research and development, diagnosis and treatment for these ailments suffered a setback at the peak of the pandemic in the continent.
“The delays in manufacturing, shipment and delivery of medicine further caused massive suffering and early death of patients,” Wasunna said at a briefing in Nairobi.
She said that disruptions that included the re-assignment of healthcare workers to COVID-19 response escalated the neglected tropical diseases crisis in Africa.
Wasunna said that Africa accounts for 40 percent of the global neglected tropical disease burden adding that access to essential drugs to boost their treatment is limited.
She said that only four percent of medicine has been developed between 2000 to 2010 to treat neglected tropical diseases adding that a single dose for managing sleeping sickness will be released in 2022.
Wasunna said that the drug called Acoziborole will boost efforts to eradicate sleeping sickness.
“The single-dose will save sleeping sickness patients from dying since the rate of deaths is currently high compared to other ailments yet there is no cure,” said Wasunna.
She said that in 2019, 62 percent of the global sleeping sickness cases were found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to Wasunna, 36 countries in the Sub-Saharan African region are endemic to sleeping sickness.
She also said that DNDi is set to start finding a medicine that could save patients suffering from snake bites later in the year.
Wasunna said that snake bites were recently included as part of neglected tropical diseases by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help hasten the search for their cure.
“Most medicines for treating snake bites are ineffective especially in Africa because they are developed from snakes that are not found in the continent,” said Wasunna.
She said that the east Africa region carries the highest burden of leishmaniasis globally where it is only second to malaria in terms of fatalities. Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by infection with Leishmania parasites, which are spread by the bite of sand flies.