Thursday, July 09, 2009

Another disease of poverty: Chagas

This morning Médecins Sans Frontières reminds us of another disease that strikes people in poverty called Chagas. The disease is mostly concentrated in Latin America but there have been a few cases reported in other areas of the world. Chagas kills 14,000 people a year needlessly, as there are drugs that were developed a long time ago that can treat the disease.

From this MSF press release, we learn more background information about the disease, and a call from MSF to more attention to it's eradication.

MSF calls on endemic countries to end the neglect of Chagas sufferers and support diagnosis and treatment for affected people, rather than focusing solely on vector control. Integrating Chagas care into primary healthcare facilities would improve patient access to treatment. MSF also calls for further Research and Development (R&D) efforts into new drugs, rapid diagnosis tests to use in remote settings and better cure tests for one of the world’s most neglected diseases.

Chagas disease is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite. In most Latin American countries, the disease is transmitted by the ‘kissing bug’ vector, although transmission is also possible from mother to child, through blood transfusions, organ transplants and contaminated food.

Chagas patients may be asymptomatic for years but during the chronic phase of the disease one third develop serious health problems (mainly heart and intestinal complications) that can lead to death. “One of the main problems we have is that for years patients have no symptoms so they do not know they are sick and receive no treatment. Active case detection is essential to find and treat infected people,” explains Dr. Nines Lima, MSF Chagas officer.

About the treatment:
The sooner the disease is detected, the more effective the treatment. The only two existing drugs – benznidazol and nifurtimox – were developed over 35 years ago through research not specifically focusing on Chagas. Although these medicines are very effective in newborn and breastfeeding children, only about 60 to 70 per cent of adolescents and adults are successfully treated. The older the patients are, the greater the likelihood they will experience side effects from the drugs. “Doctors do not treat children, let alone adults, for fear of side effects," said Dr. Tom Ellman, MSF Head of Mission in Bolivia. "We are showing that these effects are manageable in both cases. Leaving patients untreated is no longer ethical.”

1 comment:

Dr Doc (dlcs) said...

Poverty is a fact of life.
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