Epidemiology and control of human African trypanosomiasis in Uganda.
Acup, Christine Amongi
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Poverty and disease are bound together in rural communities of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) exacerbated by weak social services and conflict. The infectious disease burden in SSA combines the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and the 'big three' (malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis), so-called because they attract more global attention and hence funding. NTDs include human African trypanosomiasis (HAT or sleeping sickness), first noticed by the outside world during the slave trade era and later in the 2-th century by widespread epidemics of disease across the tsetse fly belt. HAT describes two diseases: i) Gambian HAT caused by Trypanosoma brucei gambiense is characteristically chronic with an infectious period lasting up to three years and ii) Rhodesian HAT caused by T.b. rhodesiense is an acute disease, killing its victim within weeks of infection. The two diseases are frequently considered together as both are transmitted by tsetse flies, the parasites are morphologically indistinguishable and the associated diseases are both fatal if left untreated. However, the two diseases are clinical, epidemiologically and geographical distinct, each requiring different control strategies. Under field conditions, where microscopy is the basic diagnostic tool, differentiation is simply by geographical location of the patient; the Great Rift Valley separates the Gambian disease present in West and Central Africa, from East and southern Africa's Rhodesian disease. Control strategies are also distinct; while the Belgian and French colonial strategies to control the disease were patient-centred, the British colonial powers in East Africa were motivated by the effect of tsetse borne diseases on animal health. Towards the end of the colonial ear, both types of disease were heading for elimination but during the immediate post-colonial era in the 1960s, political instability compromised the rigid HAT control programs that had been put in place. For zoonotic Rhodesian sleeping sickness, complex tsetse control programmes proved difficult to maintain and to justify economically; for Gambian sleeping sickness the generalised breakdown of medical services allowed the disease to return, sometimes to devastating levels. The millennium development goals (MDGs) set out in 2000, highlighted specific challenges and opportunities for national and global development. HAT impacts national health goals of national development plans and MDGs and impedes rural development of SSA. NTDs were not addressed directly by MDGs but the World Health Organization (WHO) has reaffirmed its commitment not only to control of HAT but also to eliminate it as a public health problem by 2020. Currently there are 25 countries reporting HAT to WHO, and while the overall prevalence of HAT across Africa continues to fall, epidemics have been recorded, particularly from central Africa, South Sudan and Uganda. Uganda is uniquely, the only country affected by both T.b. gambiense and T.b. rhodesiense and until the present study, there was no evidence to suggest that the two parasite species co-existed in Uganda. The development of a new control paradigm for T.b. rhodesiese in South East Uganda has lowered the incidence of human infections and, more importantly, halted the northerly spread of this parasite. However, recurring epidemics in several established and new disease foci in central Uganda highlight the difficulties involved in eliminating this disease. The present study assesses past and present HAT control strategies centred on Dokolo, Kaberamaido and Soroti Districts located at the centre of Uganda. These districts are highly endemic for T.b. rodesiense, they represent the region of concern for overlap with T.b. gambiense foci in central Uganda, and are the current focus of the Stamp out Sleeping sickness control initiative. The point prevalence of T. brucei s.1 in cattle reservoir from villages with (out) reported human disease located at specific distances to Otuboi, Chagwere and Ochero cattle markets, was evaluated before and six months after trypanocidal treatment, to assess the transferrable impact of zoonotic T.b. rhodesiense to the human population. Overall, the proportion of T. brucei s.1 in cattle dropped significantly from 22% at baseline to 9% six months after trypanocide treatment (P < 0.05, Chi-square + 17.92, 95% C.I. + 1.71 to 4.49). All villages located in sub-counties that received at least 80% treatment coverage had a drop in T. brucei s.1 prevalence from 30.4% (95%, C.I + 22.8 to 38.0) before treatment was done, to 12.9% (95%, C.I. + 7.4 to 18.4) six months after treatment. More specifically, impact on human infective T.b. rhodesiense was also halved. In fact only three cattle were detected with the parasite six months after treatment compared with six from those sampled as baseline. This study also utilises documented cases between 2009 and 2012 to assess the current HAT reporting system for monitoring and evaluating transmission dynamics of the disease. Using a questionnaire, capacity and preparedness of healthcare professionals to respond to disease epidemics was assessed. The point prevalence of sleeping sickness in the three districts in 2009 was determined by screening volunteers. Microscopic examinations detected trypanosomes in four volunteers (4/5311 or 0.075 %) while PCR detected significantly more infections (24, p < 0.001). Multiplex PCR showed that ten of the Trypanozoon infections were T.b. rhodesiense while nested PCR identified four infections as T.b. gamiense, indicating that the distribution of the two forms of sleeping sickness overlaps in Uganda. Second phase investigations followed up the PCR positive cases; these people were screened again, together with members of their homestead and the inhabitants of three neighbouring homes. Besides microscopy and PCR, study subjects were examined clinically for sleeping sickness and completed a questionnaire to assess community recognition of the disease. This extended screen revealed no new cases underlining the importance of stringent early screening that PCR techniques can provide. At local healthcare centres, 54% of reported sleeping sickness cases were diagnosed only at the late stage, indicating a weakness in early diagnosis and hence early reporting. Interviews with local health workers also revealed weaknesses in recognition of clinical signs and a gap in diagnostic capacity. While records at treating hospitals remain a useful indicator for targeting active foci of infection, improvement in capacity to diagnose HAT at an early stage should contribute both to rural health and disease control strategies and also towards WHO's 2020 target of elimination of HAT.