Let us make Chagas Disease Visible Now
World Chagas Disease Day is a new addition to the UN observance days. For the first time, the global community observed the day on April 14 in 2020. The initiative of the “International Federation of Associations of People Affected by Chagas Disease” led to the endorsement by the World Health Assembly. Observation of World Chagas Disease Day is to raise awareness of Chagas disease and other neglected tropical diseases. “The silent and silenced disease” is referred to when one talks about Chagas disease (also called American trypanosomiasis). The disease progresses slowly and often asymptomatic. It is a poor person’s disease with neither a political voice nor access to health care. Chagas disease is mainly affecting people from Latin America and is endemic in Latin American Countries. People’s migration to different countries is giving global dimensions to Chagas Disease, becoming a global health problem. On this date (April 14) in 1909, the first patient, a girl from Brazil, was diagnosed with this disease by Dr Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas. The condition is come to be known as Chagas disease. Raising awareness about this neglected tropical disease is essential. There is a need to improve the early detection, treatment, and cure and stops its spread and transmission.
Chagas disease is a tropical disease caused by parasitic euglenoids spread by the so-called kissing bugs (Triatominae). The disease is also spread through eating contaminated food, blood transfusion, organ transplantation, and from a mother to her baby. According to the WHO, around 6–7 million people are affected by Chagas disease. Most of them are low-income people who do not even know that they are infected. Without treatment, Chagas disease can lead to severe cardiac and digestive alterations and become fatal. The disease is curable if treated early, and the treatments are relatively inexpensive. Still, unfortunately, most of the affected people have no access to affordable healthcare. There is no approved vaccine against Chagas disease.
The main danger of Chagas disease is that it is often asymptomatic. The early stage of the illness is typically characterised by mild symptoms (swelling at the site of the bite, headache, swollen lymph nodes, fever, muscular ache). However, the lack of symptoms does not mean that Chagas disease is harmless. Complications may develop decades after the initial illness; according to statistics, heart disease develops in up to 45% of infected people, up to 21% of people may experience digestive complications. Up to 10% of people suffer from nerve damage caused by the infection.
A specific challenge WHO is faced with is the lack of data. WHO is adopting novel methods to monitor Chagas Disease. Like creating a global information and surveillance system (an open-source system) and collect available information on Chagas disease from different sources. A robust information and surveillance system helps ensure that territories stay free of transmission and detect any disease’s potential re-emergence. Fortunately, Chagas disease is not (yet) a problem in India.
The emergence of pandemics like COVID points out the adopted eating habits and overexploiting the resources. And humankind belief and dispensation as if they are the only inhabitants of this planet. Is not it time to introspect and adopt sustainable lifestyles! The ability to come out with a vaccine for COVID in such a short period reflects the researchers’ intellectual capacity. Many diseases are yet to find an effective cure is a stark reality of disparities in our society. Observation of days like “World Chagas Disease Day” is an opportunity to raise awareness about neglected tropical diseases.
Toons: Anusha and Reema Jaiswal
Logs: Sai Baba