Victor Kande Betu Kumeso
Coordinating Expert, Neglected Tropical Diseases Program, Ministry of Health, Democratic Republic of Congo

In addition to the benefits for patient comfort, the easing of constraints for health systems that are already poor, and early access to treatment and the impact on the elimination of sleeping sickness, fexinidazole will be particularly useful in very remote health areas or in conflict situations

Dr. Victor Kande Betu Kumesu is a Congolese doctor who has spent the last 40 years of his life working to combat sleeping sickness and led clinical trials for fexinidazole, the first oral-only drug that is expected to accelerate elimination of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. As former director of the DRC’s sleeping sickness program, Dr. Kande spent decades treating patients with sleeping sickness when the only available drug was melarsoprol, an older, arsenic-based medicine that kills one in every 20 patients.

Frustrated by the lack of medicines and refusing to accept that melarsoprol was the only option, Dr. Kande partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and their newly formed Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) to research better sleeping sickness treatments, which led to a 15-year collaboration and clinical trials for a new drug. When DNDi identified the drug fexinidazole as a promising candidate, Dr Kande led the clinical trials needed to test the drug and championed what would become a revolutionary treatment. Compared to the previous injectable drug, fexinidazole has lower mortality rates and can be administered more easily and rapidly, even in rural settings. It can treat both stages of the disease and eliminates the need for a painful spinal tap to see how far the disease has progressed.

Dr. Kande served as Principal Investigator from 2012-2017 and oversaw the screening of two million people to recruit participants. He enabled the training of health personnel and ensured that the trials met strict international standards. Fexinidazole was approved for use last November, and with about 65 million people in sub-Saharan Africa at risk, it has the potential to save many lives and even to eliminate sleeping sickness altogether. Fexinidazole and its development would not have been possible without the vital contributions, resilience, determination and vision of Dr Kande.