Though not prevalent, Guyana still has cases of Chagas disease
The World Health Organisation (WHO) while identifying Chagas disease as a neglected disease, says it remains a public health problem in several countries and regions in Latin America. April 14 was set aside as World Chagas Disease Day and WHO has called for comprehensive and equitable access to health care and services to everyone affected with the disease.
Guyana’s Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony on Wednesday noted that while Guyana is not burdened with the disease it is still affected and as such will work towards eliminating the disease.
“We have had Chagas in Guyana for a while but we don’t have a lot of cases, I think on average we probably would get maybe 150 – 200 cases,” Dr Anthony said.
The disease is spread by insects known as triatominae or “kissing bugs”. Acute symptoms within six weeks of being infected may include mild flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, body aches, and headaches, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and enlarged glands.
However, majority of infected persons are asymptomatic and it can take decades for person to develop symptoms. But, Dr Anthony said with this prolonged period, the disease progresses and becomes chronic to patients. He said patients can suffer heart failure and problems with the digestive tract.
According to WHO, an estimated 6 to 7 million people worldwide are infected by Trypanosoma cruzi – the parasite that causes the disease.
The WHO, earlier in the year, put forward a plan on how countries can help to eliminate the disease by 2030.
Locally, the Health Ministry’s Vector Control Unit has been working to reduce the prevalence of the disease along with other vector borne diseases such as malaria.
“One of the strategies that can help…is to use bed nets that are impregnated with insecticide,” Dr Anthony explained. This strategy has seen the reduction in the number of cases.
The ministry will distribute some 150, 000 bed nets this year in communities, especially those in the hinterland where Chagas disease has been detected.
The disease, Dr Anthony said can be life threatening when left untreated.
WHO stated, that more than ever, with the current pandemic and the risk of presenting severe COVID-19 clinical manifestations, detection of people with Chagas disease should be prioritized and provided with access to vaccination
There is no vaccine against Chagas disease. Domiciliary vectorial control and transfusional control, together with congenital transmission, remain the most effective methods of preventing transmission in Latin America.
Chagas disease was named after Carlos Ribeiro Justiniano Chagas, a Brazilian physician and researcher who discovered the disease in 1909.