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Monday, 18 February, 2002, 10:49 GMT
New drive to root out deadly fly
African children at play
Sleeping sickness affects 500,000 people a year
By the BBC's Ania Lichtarowicz

A new campaign to control the deadly tsetse fly in Africa is being launched with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is planning to flood areas with sterile male flies in the hope that they will reduce the size of the population.

It hopes the scheme will eventually lead to the eradication of sleeping sickness across Africa.

We could see an end to sleeping sickness in Africa

Peter Salema, IAEA
The tsetse fly spreads sleeping sickness, which affects 500,000 people each year in sub-Saharan Africa, killing 80% of those who catch it.

This also has huge economic implications; more than $4bn is lost every year because of it and about three million cattle die.

Sleeping sickness is caused by a parasite called trypanosome which is carried by the tiny fly.

Once in the blood stream it attacks the blood and nervous system.

The fly is becoming more widespread and sleeping sickness is becoming an even bigger health problem.

Fertile males elbowed out

Together with the Organisation of African Unity, the International Atomic Energy Agency scientists plan to introduce sterile male flies to affected areas.

The flies are sterilised after being exposed to a short burst of gamma radiation in the laboratory.

They are released into the wild to compete with other males for female attention.

They mate with some females, which then will not produce any young and therefore the population should get smaller.

A similar programme successfully eradicated the fly from Zanzibar.

Tsetse fly
Sleeping sickness is a big killer in parts of rural Africa
According to John Kabayo, the co-ordinator of the African Tsetse Eradication Campaign, the impact of the fly is difficult to exaggerate.

He says it is no accident that the concentration of much of the world's most acute poverty is in areas of sub-Saharan Africa affected by sleeping sickness.

But he is confident that this campaign will help control the disease.

Peter Salema from the IAEA believes its impact could be more significant.

He said: "We are confident we can eradicate the fly using this technique.

"We could see an end to sleeping sickness in Africa."

The campaign will target isolated areas, such as Botswana and the South Rift Valley in Ethiopa, and eventually spread outwards across the whole of Africa.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"The Tsetse fly is Africa's scourge"
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