Chagas Disease in Colombia: An opportunity to lead the way towards change

Rafael VilasanjuanRafEric Stobbaertsael Vilasanjuan, ISGlobal and Eric Stobbaerts, DNDi Latin America – members of the Global Chagas Disease Coalition
[April 2015]

During the month that celebrates International Chagas Disease day, Colombia, via its Ministry of Health has confirmed its commitment to the disease, a reason for optimism for the entire region. Aware of the difficulty of access to diagnosis and treatment (less than 1,000 patients treated), an action plan has been proposed to tackle Chagas Disease under the leadership of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection. A model project supported by DNDi and capable of being implemented in other locations arose as an example and brings hope not only to the 437 thousand infected persons and roughly 4.8 million people at risk of being infected in the country, but also for other affected countries.

Chagas Disease is a silent and silenced public health crisis. A disease caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite that lodges in the different body tissues and, in 30% of chronic patients, leads to irreversible heart lesions, while in another 10% it causes neurological and digestive tract lesions. Close to six million people throughout the world are infected and every year the toll amounts to 10,000  lives. It is time for a change, treatment is possible and there is no reason for staying silent on this disease.

There are currently two medications available, benznidazol and nifurtimox. The former, the first treatment option, is produced in Argentina and Brazil, yet it is necessary to facilitate access to them and to ensure a strong political commitment by the affected countries in order to increase the treatment programmes. There is an urgent need to save lives, improve the quality of life of infected persons and avoid the related costs that affect individual patients, families, caretakers, doctors and health systems.

In addition to the example provided by Colombia, there are several encouraging activities in the region, such as  the project that Fundación Mundo Sano is undertaking jointly with the authorities in the municipality of La Plata, Argentina, the full-time patient care platforms in Bolivia, headed by Ceades and ISGlobal, as well as the multiple projects under the guidance of Doctors Without Borders/MSF in several countries.

Treatment for Chagas Disease patients is the right of affected persons, a public health issue, but if all of this were not sufficient, it is also an investment that saves funds, improves the quality of life and reduces productivity losses related to the disease. It is no doubt a wise decision and an outstanding commitment. Only by uniting efforts to fight Chagas Disease, will we be able to achieve the goal of relieving human suffering caused by this disease.

This is the dream of the Global Chagas Coalition, an open, ambitious and cooperative alliance that by means of joint efforts and an interchange of expertise and experience,  enables the  mobilization of abilities and resources in order to increase access to diagnosis and treatment, and to encourage investigations and development of effective solutions. The Coalition invites all those with expertise and commitment to participate in this alliance.

We at the Chagas Coalition hope that the Colombian example will inspire other countries in the region to consolidate their procedures to make a real change to the disease’s panorama. Latin American countries have a key role in taking the lead in this path.

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Rafael Vilasanjuan, IS Global and Eric Stobbaerts, DNDi Latin America