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Latin America – Chagas disease spreading to urban areas

Chagas disease, Latin American killer, pushed aside by swine flu

Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Chagas disease is one of the largest debilitating and killer diseases in Latin America, but it is not winning the battle it needs for public attention in order to reduce the number of its victims. It is considered a neglected tropical disease by the WHO (World Health Organization), which put it on the agenda for the May 2009 World Health Assembly, in part because it appears to be traveling, thanks to eco-tourism. It was bumped when the agenda was reduced to allow the meeting to focus on the new pandemic, A/H1N1.

Chagas disease appears to be spreading from isolated rural areas to urban areas as people move to cities, but there is little prevention for the insect-borne disease, no standardized diagnostic test and huge knowledge gaps remain about effective treatment.

Some 50,000 people are diagnosed every year, but it has until now remained mainly a disease of very poor and isolated populations, “making it a commercially unviable candidate for drug development,” according to SciDevNet in Reuters AlertNet. “Chagas is the disease with the highest impact in Latin America. It is probably causing over two-and-a-half times more lost years of healthy life than malaria, leprosy, bilharzia and leishmaniasis combined.”

A new National Institutes of Health initiative in the US, the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases programme, is putting $24 million into research, but doctors, scientists and public health authorities are concerned that the insect-borne disease is getting ahead of them, with new clinical presentations and the disease showing up in Europe, North America and Japan. “Growing human migration and mobility have increased the geographic distribution of Chagas in recent decades and the disease now has the potential to become an international threat,” reports SciDevNet. Chagas disease can take up to 15 years to show its more serious symptoms, including heart and eye problems, which makes it difficult to detect. In the early stages it causes mild swelling at the site of the insect bite, often on the face, and mild headaches, slight fever.

The WHO in 2007 set up its Global Network for Chagas Elimination to coordinate global efforts to eliminate the disease by 2010 but the scale of the programme remains relatively small.

Source, July 30, 2009 – GenevaLunch

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