The International Federation of People Affected by Chagas Disease (FINDECHAGAS) today celebrates the creation of the World Day of People Affected by Chagas at the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Federation has for many years celebrated April 14th as a non-official day dedicated to people living with Chagas disease and has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize it as an official day. On this day, 110 years ago, the Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas diagnosed the disease for the first time in a little girl called Berenice Soares. The establishment of a World Chagas Day is key to raising awareness of this neglected disease and the challenges that people living with Chagas experience. The decision will be ratified at the WHA plenary next Tuesday.
“People affected by Chagas disease and our families have suffered from the silence and invisibility that has surrounded this disease for over a century,” said Elvira Hernández, from the Mexican association that presides, FINDECHAGAS. “The approval of a World Chagas Day will help break this silence, but there is still a long way to go. It is important to improve access to diagnostics and treatment, but also to implement information, education and communication activities to increase awareness of the disease among medical staff and within the wider community. Now, more than ever, we need the support of all the organizations and countries that have helped us to achieve this.”
Chagas disease, which is endemic in 21 countries in Latin America, but present in many others, has become a global health problem affecting more than six million people worldwide. Chagas disease kills at least 7,000 people every year. It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) and transmitted by insects known as “kissing bugs”. The disease can also be transmitted from an infected mother to a child, through blood transfusion or food contaminated with the vector. If left untreated, Chagas can cause irreversible damage to the heart and other vital organs, and lead to death.
The inclusion of World Chagas Day in the global health agenda may help to attract international attention to Chagas and mobilize resources to increase access to diagnostics and treatment for those affected, as has been the case with other diseases.
On April 14th this year, FINDECHAGAS launched an online petition and handed it to the WHA together with more than 10,000 signatures collected from people worldwide, who supported the declaration of a World Chagas Day.
“The more than 20 civil society associations from Europe and the Americas that are part of FINDECHAGAS would like to thank the vote by the member states gathered at the WHA in Geneva,” Hernández said. “We also thank all those people who have supported us and signed our petition, adding their voices to ours and demanding official recognition of this day.”
Alessandra Vilas Boas
Photo credit: Felipe Abondano – DNDi