The trypanosomiases consist of a group of important animal and human diseases caused by parasitic protozoa of the genus Trypanosoma. In sub-Saharan Africa, the final decade of the 20th century witnessed an alarming resurgence in sleeping sickness (human African trypanosomiasis). In South and Central America, Chagas' disease (American trypanosomiasis) remains one of the most prevalent infectious diseases. Arthropod vectors transmit African and American trypanosomiases, and disease containment through insect control programmes is an achievable goal. Chemotherapy is available for both diseases, but existing drugs are far from ideal. The trypanosomes are some of the earliest diverging members of the Eukaryotae and share several biochemical peculiarities that have stimulated research into new drug targets. However, differences in the ways in which trypanosome species interact with their hosts have frustrated efforts to design drugs effective against both species. Growth in recognition of these neglected diseases might result in progress towards control through increased funding for drug development and vector elimination.