World Chagas Disease Day: raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases
24 May 2019 | Geneva −− The 72nd World Health Assembly today approved the designation of a World Chagas Disease Day which aims, among others, to raise public awareness of this neglected tropical disease (NTD) that affects mainly poor people.
“An annual day celebrated at global level is bound to attract international attention,” said Dr Pedro Albajar Viñas, WHO Medical Officer (Chagas disease). “"These days can help to provide visibility and commit countries to enhance control interventions for a disease that has remained largely neglected, but still present in many countries.”
Chagas disease, also called American trypanosomiasis, has also been termed as a “silent and silenced disease”, not only because of its slowly progressing clinical course but also because it affects mainly poor people who have no political voice or access to health care.
World Chagas Disease Day will be observed on 14 April, each year. It was on this date in 1909 that the first patient, a Brazilian girl named Berenice Soares de Moura, was diagnosed for this disease by Dr Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas.
“A World Chagas Disease Day is an opportunity to collectively raise the profile of NTDs and the resources needed to control, eliminate or eradicate them as we prepare the new NTD Roadmap for 2021–2030,” said Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Search for wider recognition
A vector-borne disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by the faeces and urine of triatomine bugs, among other modes of transmission, Chagas disease is prevalent mainly among poor populations of Latin America and affects 6–7 million people.
During the past decades, however, it has been increasingly detected in the United States of America and Canada and in many European and some Western Pacific countries. This is explained by the fact that although the infected vector has only been detected in the Americas, the disease can also be transmitted by contaminated food, transfusion of blood or blood products, passage from an infected mother to her newborn, and organ transplantation and even laboratory accidents.
Without treatment, Chagas disease can lead to severe cardiac and digestive alterations and become fatal.
The proposal for a World Chagas Disease Day was initiated by the International Federation of Associations of People Affected by Chagas Disease, and was supported by several health institutions, universities, research centres, national or international nongovernmental platforms, organizations and foundations.
Addressing a ‘silent killer’
Raising awareness and the profile of this silent disease, which is often diagnosed in its late stages, is essential to early treatment and cure. Evidence-based, cost–effective interventions exist, including screening (blood, organs and of newborns and children), early case detection, prompt treatment of cases, vector control, hygiene and food safety.
Integrated interventions are being carried out with malaria and other haemoparasites, maternal and child health programmes, HIV/AIDS and other communicable and noncommunicable health programmes to enhance cost-effectiveness of implementation.
WHO supports treatment of Chagas disease through donations of nifurtimox and benznidazole, which are made possible thanks to agreements with Bayer and Insud Pharma, respectively. WHO also supports global awareness-raising on the extent of illness, suffering, disability and death associated with all NTDs.
Celebrating World Chagas Disease Day on 14 April will provide a unique opportunity to add a global voice in favour of this and other forgotten diseases.