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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note: Sleeping Sickness

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new effort to combat tsetse flies and sleeping sickness in Africa.


CURWOOD: Coming up, a federal judge tells the Bush Administration to release its documents on the energy task force. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: One of the most devastating problems in Africa, on par with war or drought, is the tsetse fly. The bloodsucking insect carries a parasite that causes sleeping sickness, a disease that destroys the nervous system, and kills 80 percent of its victims. It's estimated that 60 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are at risk for the disease. But sleeping sickness has no effective treatment unless diagnosed early, something that rarely happens. The parasite also devastates rural economy, killing millions of livestock animals, and forcing people to abandon infested farmland. But now, a UN nuclear watchdog group is working on a remedy. The International Atomic Energy Agency exposes laboratory bred male tsetse flies to a dose of radiation. This doesn't kill the insects, but it does make them sterile. These flies are then dropped by airplane into areas with sleeping sickness where they mate with female flies, but produce no offspring.

The project has been tested on the island of Zanzibar where both the tsetse fly and sleeping sickness have been eradicated. The agency says, so far, the elimination of the fly has not harmed Zanzibar's environment. But milk and meat production on the island has more than doubled since the program began. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Herbie Hancock, "Rain Dance," SEXTANT (Sony - 1988)]



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