Chagas: It's Time to Break the Silence

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF

Bolivia 2006 © Juan Carlos Tomasi

Millions of people are infected with Chagas disease and do not know it. They can die in silence, without asking for help, without knowing why. It´s time to act: diagnose and treat now!

One hundred years of neglected patients

This year, 2009, marks the centenary of the discovery by the Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas of the disease which bears his name. In 1909, Dr. Chagas announced to the world the existence of a new infectious disease. The previous year, he had discovered the parasite which causes it and the vector by which it is transmitted. His triple discovery is considered unique in the history of medicine.

One hundred years after this discovery, however:

  • There is still a lack in the innovation of treatments and those that do exist are not available to the majority of sufferers.
  • Many of those infected with Chagas disease are still unaware that they are sick. They are dying without knowing why and doing so in silence. Their voices do not reach the governments which should be responding to this public health problem, or the pharmaceutical companies which could be researching and developing new medicines.
  • Chagas disease remains a silent illness. The time has come to break the silence.

Historically, Chagas disease programs have focused on prevention of the disease and on vector control. Now, knowing that the majority of those infected by the parasite can be treated, this focus, which has excluded treatment, is no longer acceptable. In its 10 years of experience in the field, MSF has proved that the diagnosis and treatment of Chagas disease, even in
remote rural environments, is viable, necessary and ethically beyond question.

The report

The MSF report, "Chagas: It's Time to Break the Silence," explains the main issues driving MSF to speak out on this disease, including:

  • How research and development of medicines and diagnostics for the disease has been frozen for the last 35 years.
  • A lack of testing means people carrying the parasite for Chagas often never know until it's too late.
  • That older patients can be treated effectively, even though for years doctors have only treated young children for the disease.

MSF is calling on the governments of endemic countries to fight on all fronts against Chagas disease.