International Chagas Day: MSF Launches Campaign to Raise Awareness

BRAZIL 2018 © Paula Giolito/MSF

NEW YORK/RIO DE JANEIRO, APRIL 14, 2018—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) launched the awareness campaign "A big heart is not always a good thing" for International Chagas Disease Day today. The initiative aims to raise public awareness of a neglected disease that affects the health of more than 6 million people around the world, especially in Latin America where it is endemic.

Chagas disease is a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma Cruzi and transmitted by an insect—called a triatomine or “kissing bug”—that leads to an estimated 12,000 deaths per year. This disease disproportionally affects people living in rural areas and urban slums in Latin America as the bug lives in the walls and roofs of mud and straw houses.

People can live with Chagas for decades without any symptoms. While treatment is available, only one out of 10 people affected have been diagnosed. Many people are unaware that they are infected until Chagas causes life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and digestive issues.

“Since there are no systematic diagnosis programs, many people end up dying without even knowing they were infected,” said Juan-Carlos Cubides, MSF epidemiologist.

Chagas predominantly affects people living in poverty, leading to a lack of public interest and almost no policy commitments or investments to fight it.

“Making sure more people are diagnosed can only be changed by public policies, which are only prioritized when there is pressure from society, and this engagement begins with the dissemination of information,” Cubides said. “It is precisely this effect that we want to provoke with this initiative.”

MSF is encouraging social media users to share these stories of people affected by Chagas to bring attention to this disease and explain that it is still a serious public health issue.

From 1999 to 2016, MSF developed primary health care projects for those affected by Chagas disease. These projects have been implemented in several countries, including Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua. MSF also trained health professionals in Brazil to respond to Chagas.