“Spread the Word”, a new project designed to encourage people of Latin American origin to get tested for Chagas disease, was presented on Thursday at Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic. The project, known as “Pasa la Voz” in Spanish, is supported by CaixaBank through the ”la Caixa” Foundation. This new initiative grew out of a programme piloted by Hospital Clínic, the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the Global Chagas Disease Coalition that managed to increase the number of first consultations for Chagas disease at the hospital’s International Health Department by 40%.
The new programme was presented by Joaquim Gascon, head of the International Health Service at Hospital Clínic and director of the Chagas Initiative at ISGlobal, and María Jesús Pinazo, a senior specialist in Chagas disease and researcher at ISGlobal. Gascon and Pinazo explained that blood tests play a key role in diagnosis because infected people can carry the disease for years before developing heart and/or digestive problems.
Less than 1% of the people affected by Chagas disease worldwide are currently receiving treatment. In Spain, thanks to the coverage provided by the public health system and interventions designed to raise awareness about the diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease, it is estimated that around 15% of the at-risk population has sought diagnosis and treatment.
The spirit of the “Spread the Word” project is to raise awareness among regular patients of the International Health Service and members of various associations of Latin American residents and encourage them to spread information about Chagas disease in their communities.
The pilot programme provided training to a total of 205 people, 75% of whom were women. Fifty-three of these participants—or 25.8% of the total—went on to become “word-spreaders” who generated a total of 112 new first consultations at the Hospital Clínic’s International Health Department. Gascon and Pinazo described the profile of the most effective word-spreaders and the characteristics of their contacts (i.e. new patients) in terms of origin, type of social relationship, gender, and whether or not the word-spreader disclosed his or her diagnosis of Chagas disease.
Gascon commented: “The ‘Spread the Word’ project believes that patients can become agents of change. By tapping into the trust of families and communities, we hope to encourage more people to get tested to find out whether they are carriers of Chagas disease.” Spreading information can save lives by encouraging affected individuals to seek care and treatment.