First “World Chagas Day” highlights how vulnerable many patients are
Doctors in the United States that treat people with Chagas disease, a parasitic illness transmitted by the “kissing bug” in the Americas, are increasingly worried about the estimated 30,000 to 45,000 people that are at increased risk of complications from COVID-19 because they have Chagas-related heart problems.
Only 0.3% of the 300,000 people living with Chagas disease in the United States have accessed treatment, and many of them are from the socially vulnerable populations that are especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Chagas can cause life-threatening heart damage and/or gastrointestinal complications if not treated early.
‘We are very concerned about our patients – while Chagas is transmitted within the US by native kissing bugs, most of our patients were born in Latin America and today face multiple barriers to accessing healthcare,’ said Dr Rachel Marcus, MD, FACC, Medical Director, LASOCHA (Latin American Society of Chagas). ‘While Chagas-related cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) is a potential risk factor for a severe form of COVID-19, we are also worried that many of these people live under the federal poverty line, may not have paid time off, and are forced to continue to put themselves at risk during this crisis – or suffer severe economic deprivation.’
More research is needed on the interaction between Chagas disease and COVID-19. However, people with heart conditions have been more susceptible to COVID-19, and up to 30% of people with Chagas disease suffer from cardiac complications.
Today is the first-ever World Chagas Day – a critical opportunity to raise awareness about this deeply-neglected disease, which affects 6-7 million people, primarily the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized – in Latin America. Most people in the US with Chagas disease do not realize they have the infection, and many healthcare providers are not familiar with the disease, which can remain asymptomatic for decades
‘It is absolutely essential – particularly now – that health-care providers in the US learn more about Chagas disease, so they can identify patients potentially at high-risk during this pandemic,‘ said Dr Sheba Meymandi, Director of the Center of Excellence for Chagas Disease (CECD) at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. ‘Although we have an effective treatment for Chagas disease, there is an urgent need to increase access to testing for both Chagas disease and COVID-19.‘
Fear, stigma, gaps in the health system, and lack of awareness in the medical community are among the barriers keeping the most vulnerable from accessing essential care for Chagas disease, a leading cause of heart disease in the Americas, according to a paper published earlier in the year by the CECD, the not-for-profit drug development organization Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), the CECD, and the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). All of these barriers are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information on the first-ever World Chagas Day, please visit the websites below:
DNDi North America
Tel: +1 646 266 5216
Photo credit: Angela Boatwright/DNDi