-April 14, International Chagas Day-
Chagas Disease can and must be treated. This is the message that the Global Coalition for Chagas Disease, together with its partners and allies, wishes to underline on the occasion of International Chagas Day next April 14.
Most of the people infected (more than 99%) remain without access to diagnosis and treatment
Since the disease was first diagnosed by the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas more than one hundred years ago, some progress has been made despite the very limited resources. For example, in various regions of Latin America where the disease is endemic, the presence of the disease-transmitting vector– the so-called kissing bug – has been considerably reduced. However, most of the people infected with the T. cruzi parasite (more than 99%) remain without access to diagnosis and treatment. Currently, 6 million people are estimated to have the Chagas disease, and 70 million are at risk of contracting it.
Even if there are only two available treatments -benznidazole and nifurtimox- their efficacy is high if the infection is detected early
The tools for diagnosis and treatment must be made available to the population affected by the disease, both in endemic countries and in those countries where the disease has spread due to migratory flows, such as Spain or the United States, where hundreds of thousand affected people live. Even if there are only two available treatments -benznidazole and nifurtimox- their efficacy is high if the infection is detected early. Therefore, more efforts and resources should be allocated to the early diagnosis of the disease.
Another key issue is detecting the infection among women of child-bearing age, in order to prevent mother to child transmission. The ETMI-PLUS initiative promoted by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) encourages national health systems to screen and control the disease in pregnant women with the same priority level as other better-known diseases such as HIV. It is estimated that 1.2 million women are currently infected and that more than 8,000 children are born with the disease every year as a result of congenital transmission.
1.2 million women are currently infected and more than 8,000 children are born with the disease every year as a result of congenital transmission
It is important to remind health care workers both in endemic and non-endemic areas that Chagas can be treated. If the disease progresses, it becomes a chronic problem that affects vital organs in 30% of infected people, and is more difficult to treat. Because of this, the approval of benznidazole in countries such as USA and Mexico gives reasons to hope that these countries will commit to increasing the number of diagnosed and treated patients, which in turn will help them achieve the UN-approved Sustainable Development Goals concerning neglected diseases.
Keeping in mind that Chagas disease can be treated is the cornerstone to overcoming misconceptions: the disease is not unavoidable, it can be tackled. It is also a stimulus for those affected and their relatives to speak out with an increasingly stronger and united voice.
The Global Coalition for Chagas Disease was funded in December 2012 by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), the Mundo Sano Foundatoin, the Science and Applied Studies for Health and Environment Development (CEADES) Foundation, the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, and the Tropical Medicine School at the Baylor College of Medicine. Since then, numerous partners have joined.