World Chagas Disease Day 2024: 12,000 Die Yearly, over Seven Million Infected Globally -WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that an estimated 6–7 million people worldwide are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, leading to some 12,000 deaths every year.

This information was revealed ahead of the 2024 World Chagas Disease Day, which focuses on early diagnosis and lifelong care to increase public awareness of Chagas disease and secure greater support and funding for early diagnosis and comprehensive follow-up care initiatives.

Dr Jérôme Salomon, Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO, emphasized the importance of strengthening global surveillance for Chagas disease, stating, “Strengthening global surveillance for Chagas disease over the next few years is an essential step towards understanding its real burden and in taking appropriate measures to tackle its neglect.”

Chagas disease is often called a “silent disease” because most patients have no symptoms during the acute or chronic phases of infection, until damage is too advanced to be reversed. It remains a public health problem, especially in several endemic areas of continental Latin America, where the burden on health systems is the highest. Climate change and global migration have expanded the reach of the disease to several countries beyond the Americas.

Transmission of Chagas disease can occur through six routes: vectorial, oral, congenital, transfusional, organ transplantation, and laboratory accident. Despite cases being documented in 44 countries across the world, only six countries have information systems in place to monitor existing cases and active transmission routes.

Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director of WHO’s Global Neglected Tropical Diseases Programme, highlighted the urgent need for heightened awareness and support for initiatives focused on early diagnosis and comprehensive care. He stated, “I invite everyone to join WHO in observing World Chagas Disease Day. This is an occasion to reflect on how climate change and migration have changed the epidemiological landscape of Chagas disease and turned it into a global condition in just a few years, underscoring the urgent need for heightened awareness and support for initiatives focused on early diagnosis and comprehensive care.”

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is caused by the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, mainly transmitted to humans by contact with the faeces/urine of infected blood-sucking triatomine bugs. There is currently no vaccine against Chagas disease, and public health control tools for the disease include domiciliary vectorial control, food safety, transfusion and transplantation screening, and detecting infection in girls and women of childbearing age to prevent congenital transmission.

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