Press release from the Chagas Global Coalition
As of this year, every 14 April people affected by Chagas disease in the world will be present in the global health agenda to show and share the challenges they face. Most of them live in endemic countries, in low-income contexts and under very vulnerable conditions.
13 April. From a world on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. After 111 years of the first diagnosis of Chagas disease in humans, the World Health Organization (WHO) established 14 April as the first official World Day to remind us of the challenges faced by people affected by this neglected disease.
Although the current coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic demands greatest attention at this critical moment, this first World Chagas Disease Day aims at making visible those people affected by this disease, who have been historically marginalized from the priority agenda of health systems. This is especially important for many of the people affected by Chagas disease, who are part of the population vulnerable to Covid-19 pandemic.
Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, originally transmitted through the faeces of a bug known as “vinchuca”, “chinche”, “pito”, among other names adopted in the different regions where it occurs, from the southern region of the United States to all over Latin America. The other main transmission routes include mother-to-child (during pregnancy), as well as oral transmission, blood transfusion or organ transplants. All of these routes, along with population movements in the last decades, have made Chagas disease a global challenge.
Approximately 30% of the people that become infected with Chagas disease develop severe complications, mainly heart conditions or, to a lesser degree, gastrointestinal or neurological disorders.
There are about 7 million people infected in the world. Every year, about 9,000 children are born with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and more than 12,000 people die. Moreover, more than 75 million people are estimated to be at risk of becoming infected. For this reason, early diagnosis and treatment are very important, since the available medicines achieve very good results
The International Federation of Associations of People Affected by Chagas disease (FINDECHAGAS) calls on health authorities of countries where Chagas disease has been diagnosed to “maintain prevention programmes so as to protect as many people as possible”. Likewise, they stress the need to “give priority to attention and treatment of positive cases, since very often this will make the difference between life and death”.
The approval of the World Day during the World health assembly last year was in response to a request presented by the associations of people affected by Chagas disease to have a day to revert the silence and invisibility that have surrounded Chagas disease for more than one century.
The current COVID-19 situation is challenging the commitment and solidarity of health systems and the vision of a universal health coverage that does not leave anyone behind. To eliminate Chagas disease as a public health issue, efforts to control all the transmission routes need to be renewed; current diagnosis and treatment tools should be encouraged and improved, and new ones should be developed; comprehensive health coverage should be extended to all people affected by Chagas disease or at risk of becoming infected. At the same time, communication and awareness about the disease should be promoted.
For that purpose, during the next decade it is essential that policymakers and funders be more willing to accompany the work of the community of affected people, scientists, organizations and health staff that face the complex problems posed by Chagas disease.
“It is very important that people affected by Chagas disease, especially during the covid-19 pandemic, receive the necessary information for adequate prevention and attention, if necessary“, FINDECHAGAS reminds. “We have felt that we were hidden behind calculations and numbers for a long time. However, we are human beings and we want to make ourselves visible as such before the health authorities in the world”.