Sleeping Sickness

You can help end sleeping sickness.

Sleeping sickness is the stuff of pure nightmares. The parasite that causes the disease attacks the nervous system, killing adults and children alike. Until recently, treatment has been toxic, even lethal. Today, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is revolutionizing patient care and running clinical trials for two new treatments in some of the remotest and hardest hit regions of Africa.
"It was a terrible dilemma to be a doctor treating this disease when the only drug available for patients was basically a poison." signature of Bernard Pecoul Bernard Pécoul, MD, MPH
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Read a message from the founding executive director.


It’s not every day that you can help eliminate a deadly disease.

When I worked for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the 1980s and ‘90s, the only drug available to treat sleeping sickness was so toxic that it killed 1 in 20 patients.

It was a terrible dilemma to be a doctor treating this disease when the only drug available for patients was basically a poison.

That is why I am so excited to share this news with you: the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) is on the brink of bringing two new treatments for sleeping sickness out of the research and development (R&D) pipeline and into the hands of patients. If successful, these breakthroughs will be the first safe and effective sleeping sickness therapies to be developed in the form of simple oral treatments — and will help eliminate a deadly disease that has plagued Africa for centuries.

DNDi grew out of the frustration of doctors, like myself, who lacked the safe, effective, affordable treatments our patients needed. We dedicated a portion of MSF’s 1999 Nobel Peace Prize funds to establish DNDi, in partnership with key public research institutions, to focus on R&D for diseases affecting the world’s most neglected people.

Right now, DNDi’s research teams are leading state-of-the-art clinical trials for new treatments in the remotest regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where more than 75% of sleeping sickness cases are found.

With your support, we are confident that these new therapies will be a key part of the global effort to eliminate sleeping sickness within a matter of years. We are looking for new partners — people like you — to help us secure $5 million for the final stretch.

Please join us. Together we can free communities in Africa of this devastating, deadly disease — and make medical history.

signature of Bernard Pecoul Bernard Pécoul, MD, MPH
Spread by the bite of a tsetse fly, sleeping sickness—also known as human African trypanosomiasis—thrives in remote rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. People are at risk whenever they go to bathe or collect water because tsetse flies live along the edges of rivers, often a community's only water source. As the parasite enters the bloodstream, it causes headaches, rashes, and disrupts sleeping patterns. During the deadly second stage of the disease, the parasite attacks the central nervous system, causing severe neurological disorders, convulsions, and coma. Left untreated, sleeping sickness is 100% fatal.
More than 500,000 people die in the first major outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Arsenic-based drugs are discovered and cases of sleeping sickness drop significantly during colonial times.
In the midst of a new epidemic, eflornithine, a less toxic drug, emerges, but still requires patients to be hospitalized and undergo two hours of painful intravenous (IV) infusions four times a day.
War in Sudan, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo exacerbates an epidemic outbreak that began in 1970 and that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Eflornithine goes out of production because it is not deemed profitable by its manufacturer. It is reintroduced in 2001 when a cosmetic use is found: the removal of facial hair in women.
DNDi and partners discover that fexinidazole is effective in killing the sleeping sickness parasite. It becomes a lead candidate in the search for a cure.
DNDi and partners deliver a new treatment combining eflornithine with a drug called nifurtimox. It’s safe, but still requires injections in a hospital setting.
DNDi and partners discover the compound SCYX-7158 and conduct pre-clinical studies. If successful, it will be a “one-dose” cure for the disease.
Thanks to sustained control efforts, the number of new cases drops below 4,000, with 20,000 people estimated to be infected.
DNDi and the National Sleeping Sickness Control Program of the Democratic Republic of Congo are now conducting clinical trials at 11 sites throughout the country.
If all goes well, fexinidazole will be approved and available to patients from their local clinic. No more hospital stays, spinal taps, painful IV infusions, or toxic melarsoprol needed.
If all goes well, DNDi will register SCYX-7158. This treatment could be given to patients as a single course of three pills, enabling doctors to track down hard-to-reach patients and cure them in a matter of days.

Together we can rewrite the future of sleeping sickness.

We need $5 million to bring these groundbreaking treatments out of the drug pipeline and into the hands of patients. If successful, these treatments will be the latest of DNDi's lifesaving contributions to the treatment of people with neglected diseases. Since 2003, we've developed seven new treatments that have reached millions of patients suffering from malaria, sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and pediatric HIV/AIDS around the world.

We've done this at a fraction of the cost of the traditional business model of the pharmaceutical industry.

$5 million will help us:
Will you help us go the last mile?

If you are interested in finding out more, please contact
Stephanie Oster in New York at soster@dndi.org
or Caroline Gaere in Geneva at cgaere@dndi.org.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative

DNDi brings the best science to the most neglected. We research and develop safe, effective, and affordable treatments for diseases plaguing many of the world's poorest and most neglected communities. We don't do it for profit. We do it because we believe all patients have the right to the best that science has to offer, no matter where they were born.

DNDi was founded in 2003 by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Institut Pasteur, the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Malaysian Ministry of Health, and the World Heatlh Organization's Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases.

DNDi has received numerous awards, including the Rockefeller Foundation's 2013 Next Century Innovators Award, the 2013 Carlos Slim Health Award for Outstanding Institution, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's 2014 Innovative Fund Award, and the Drug Information Association's 2016 President's Award for Outstanding Contribution to Global Health.


DNDi's Sleeping Sickness Program
Supporters Include
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Department for International Development (DFID), UK
  • Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
  • Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS)
  • European Union
  • Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) through KfW, Germany
  • French Development Agency (AFD)
  • German International Cooperation (GIZ), Federal Republic of Germany
  • Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE), France
  • Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad)
  • Republic of Canton of Geneve, Switzerland
  • Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID)
  • Stavros Niarchos Foundation
  • Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
  • UBS Optimus Foundation

R&D Partners Include
  • Anacor
  • Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
  • Human African Trypanosomiasis Platform (Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda)
  • National Sleeping Sickness Control Programs of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Repbulic
  • Pace University
  • Sanofi
  • Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute
  • World Health Organization

On November 22, 2016, the Huffington Post launched Project Zero, a year-long partnership to help DNDi raise the $5 million we need to help put sleeping sickness to rest.