PAHO Calls For Strengthening Of First Level Care For Early Detection, Treatment Of Chagas In The Caribbean

(CMC) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has called for first level of care to be strengthened to improve the detection and treatment of Chagas in Latin America and the Caribbean, a disease that is largely asymptomatic.

PAHO noted that “Time to integrate Chagas disease into primary health care” is the theme of this year’s World Day, highlighting the low detection rates and frequent barriers to accessing adequate medical care.

“Chagas is a disease that few know about, although it affects millions of people”, PAHO Director Dr Jarbas Barbosa said. “I call on governments, health personnel and community workers to make additional efforts to work together and focus attention on most vulnerable populations, so that we can soon eliminate Chagas as a public health problem.”

Chagas affects more than 6 million people worldwide, most of them in Latin America.

However, due to increased population mobility, PAHO said the disease is increasingly detected in other countries and continents. Around 30,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths are reported in the Latin American region each year.

Chagas disease is caused by the T cruzi parasite that is mainly transmitted through contact with a vector insect known as a “kissing bug”.

It can also be transmitted via blood transfusion or organ transplantation, during pregnancy and labour, and through eating contaminated food, PAHO said.

It said Chagas disease is almost 100 per cent curable if detected and treated early.

“With Chagas detection rates so low, treatment is arriving too late,” said Dr Massimo Ghidinelli, interim director of PAHO’s Department of Prevention, Control, and Elimination of Communicable Diseases. “We need to involve the community and support primary care professionals with training and critical supplies to manage the disease.”

If detected in time, PAHO Chagas can be cured or treated.

Without long-term treatment, PAHO said up to 30 per cent of patients can develop irreversible complications to the nervous system, digestive system and heart.

With its support, PAHO said that since 1990, countries of the region have made progress in controlling Chagas.

PAHO said this includes measures to control the vector, application of universal screening in blood banks and in pregnant women and improved housing standards.

However, given the continued circulation of the vector and the silent nature of the disease, PAHO said Chagas continues to be endemic in 21 countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean, and is one of more than 30 diseases and conditions that PAHO and countries seek to eliminate by 2030.

To end mother-to-child transmission, PAHO recommends universal Chagas screening for pregnant women, and testing of newborns to determine serological status. The organisation also recommends treating positive mothers and babies after delivery.

PAHO said Chagas disease is named after Carlos Chagas, a Brazilian doctor and researcher who discovered the disease in 1909.