For centuries, sleeping sickness caused havoc in isolated reaches of Africa, preying on people with no access to medical care or those unaware of the biological dangers they faced when wading into a foreign land.
Sleeping sickness, or Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT), is endemic in 36 African countries and around 60 million people are at risk of being infected. Spread by the bite of a tsetse fly, the disease was signaled by the onset of fever, headaches, and joint pain, followed by disorientation and profound fatigue that makes it difficult to stay awake—hence the name sleeping sickness.
Sustained efforts to fight the disease have been largely successful, but there remain “hot spots” and “blind spots” in Central and West Africa, particularly in areas where conflict reigns but medical coverage and disease surveillance are weak. (Seventeen sub-Saharan Africa countries reported cases in 2009, for instance, and the Democratic Republic of Congo alone recorded three-quarters of all known cases.)
Between 1986 and 2010, MSF teams in several countries screened nearly 3 million people and treated more than 51,000 for the disease. At present, MSF has sleeping sickness programs in several other African countries as well. Collectively, this experience has made clear the need not only for ongoing vigilance, but also for new and easier diagnostic tests and shorter, more adaptable treatment regimens for patients.
VII Photo’s John Stanmeyer joined one of MSF’s mobile HAT teams, which was designed to augment fixed-site screening and treatment activities in Central Africa, allowing him a firsthand look at the modern-day effort to battle this age-old scourge.
Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), VII Photo, and UNION HZ present FATAL NEGLECT, a six-part documentary film project, that tells the stories of millions of patients left behind by the global health revolution.
In Fatal Neglect: The Global Health Revolution’s Forgotten Patients, VII photographers Seamus Murphy, Venetia Dearden, Ron Haviv, and John Stanmeyer document the impact of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, the three deadliest neglected tropical diseases—(visceral leishmaniasis (kala azar), Human African Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), and Chagas—and vaccine-preventable diseases.
The award-winning photojournalists traveled to Mali, Paraguay, South Sudan, and Tajikistan to capture the stories of frontline health workers trying to fight diseases that affect millions of people and kill hundreds of thousands each year yet garner little attention from drug developers, policy makers, or the mass media.