A short film by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) telling the story of doctors in the Democratic Republic of Congo and their role in developing a revolutionary all-oral treatment for sleeping sickness has won the “Grand Prix” at the first-ever World Health Organization (WHO) “Health For All Film Festival”.

The movie, entitled “A doctor’s dream: A pill for sleeping sickness”, portrays Dr Victor Kande, a Congolese researcher who helped to lead efforts by the non-profit research and development organization DNDi and partners to develop the treatment known as fexinidazole.

The film was selected from almost 1300 entries, with a jury featuring world-renowned filmmakers and WHO top officials. In her remarks at the online award ceremony yesterday one of the jurors, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO, said that ‘as a medical doctor, I know about these diseases – but this film really brings out the impactful emotional side.

The other jurors in the same category were British film writer and director Richard Curtis and Brazilian actor and director Wagner Moura.

Sleeping sickness is a deadly infectious parasitic disease transmitted by the tse-tse fly. Until recently, the only available treatment was an arsenic derivative that was so toxic it killed 5% of patients. DNDi and its partners discovered fexinidazole, owned by pharmaceutical company Sanofi, and developed it into a safe and easy-to use treatment. Patients now just need to take pills for 10 days.

This film starts with the nightmare I had to live with for years – deadly and toxic treatments – but it ends with the realization of my dream: a safe and effective drug,’ said Dr Kande. ‘Today I feel for the thousands of doctors around the world facing a similar situation and I truly hope this film and our story will show that, if we unite, we might have a solution to this global nightmare.

As part of this award, DNDi received a USD 10,000 grant from WHO which it will use to develop further films on neglected patients, and the researchers, doctors, and health workers who strive so hard to develop treatments for them

DNDi is a not-profit drug development organization founded in 2003 by Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) to address the needs of patients with the most neglected diseases. DNDi has since developed new treatments for diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, Chagas, leishmaniasis, and paediatric HIV. It recently participated in the launch of a coalition to accelerate COVID-19 research in low- and middle-income countries.


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