bringing a forgotten disease to the fore of global attention



April 2020 | Geneva −− Today the global community celebrates the first
World Chagas Disease Day. The event makes visible one of the most
neglected tropical diseases prioritized by the World Health Organization
(WHO) as it continues to affect millions, worldwide. Chagas disease was
discovered more than a century ago but stayed largely ignored.

disease has been associated for a long time with mainly poor, rural and
marginalized populations and is characterized by poverty and exclusion
” said Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, Director, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “It
is time we end this neglect and the social stigma associated with
infection that stands as a major barrier to effective screening,
diagnosis, treatment and control.

social consequences of stigma associated with Chagas disease lead to
social rejection. People who suffer from the disease can face work
restrictions because it is often associated with poor health and
potential difficulties in performing work, and even sudden death,
creating a fear of financial losses by employers. Among others, it is
for these reasons that people are reluctant to seek medical help –
leading to more serious clinical manifestations and final complications
and further spread of the disease.

Latin America, Chagas disease has been mostly transmitted to humans by
contact with the faeces or urine of particular species of triatomine
bugs infected with the parasite Trypansosoma cruzi.

bugs typically live in the wall or roof cracks of homes in rural or
suburban areas. Normally they hide during the day and are active at
night when they feed on human blood by biting an exposed area of skin,
such as the face (hence its local name ‘kissing bug’, among many
others). Soon after its blood meal, the bug defecates or urinates close
to the bite. The parasites enter the body when the person instinctively
reacts to the bite while smearing the bug faeces or urine into the bite
or any other skin break, the eyes and the mouth or by contamination of
food during its preparation, storage and consumption, frequently causing
outbreaks of oral transmission with higher morbidity and mortality

Urbanization and spread

with rapid urbanization and movement of populations between Latin
America and other countries outside the region, the disease spread to
urban areas and to other countries and continents, including Europe and
some African, Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific countries.

these countries, Chagas disease is not transmitted by triatomine bugs
as it does in Latin America – but rather through other (non-vectorial)
” said Dr Pedro Albajar Viñas, Medical Officer, WHO Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases. “These
include blood or blood products transfusion, mother-to-child
(congenital) and organ transplantation and even laboratory accidents.

recognition of this growing public health problem and the need to
create awareness on ways to increase detection and prevent its spread,
the Seventy-second World Health Assembly – WHO’s decision-making body –
agreed to designate 14 April as World Chagas Day.

disease is named after Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a Brazilian
physician and researcher who discovered the disease in 1909.

Improving awareness and promoting health-seeking behaviour

disease is poorly understood by health professionals in non-endemic
areas, with many who consider it to be a tropical disease restricted to
some territories of Latin America. Similarly, patients infected with T.cruzi
in non-endemic areas may not be aware of their condition which can lead
to further transmission through non-vectorial routes of transmission.

health personnel to facilitate diagnosis, using all possible
opportunities of systematic integration with other neglected tropical
diseases and other chronic communicable and non-communicable diseases,
together with the provision of adequate medical care can greatly help to
mitigate transmission and improve prognosis
” said Dr Albajar Viñas. “Lack
of awareness and knowledge about the disease, along with incorrect
outdated beliefs, are clear obstacles to promoting health-seeking

year is the first opportunity for the global community to better
understand and make visible the health, psycho-social and economic
dimensions of this long-forgotten and ignored disease. 


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