Friday, October 5, 2007

Why Chagas' Disease matters

Chagas’ Disease, or American Trypanosomiasis, is one of the world’s most extended lethal parasitic infections. It is also the main cause of heart failure in Latin America. Around twenty million people are already infected, and each year this figure increases by fifty thousand. The population living in areas of infectious risk is around one hundred and twenty million people, roughly a quarter of Latin America’s population.

Despite all these facts this disease remains unattended because its insidious nature, although its mortality rate is high, it kills years, and even decades after the infection, frequently from heart failure, which figures in registrations as the official cause of death, eclipsing the role of the disease and diminishing its importance in the official registers. Often the person remains impaired during the last years of his life, unable to do any physical labour. In an urban environment this would not be a problem, but most of the affected live in rural areas, dependant of farming, inflicted with poverty, far away from the managers, a calamity that goes unnoticed by city-dwellers. All these facts combine to make Chagas’ Disease a silent tragedy that not only sever lives but distort them, making them unproductive and vulnerable long time before the death occurs.

Currently there are no effective treatments against Chagas’ Disease. The compounds already used, Nifurtimox and Benznidazole have plenty of side effects, besides they are only effective at the early stages of the infection, which are often unnoticed, in later stages, they are totally ineffective. Hopefully, new therapeutic alternatives are being designed, tailor made to attack the parasite without interfering with the host metabolism. Among the new approaches to deal with Trypanosoma cruzi are targeting the systems that allow the parasite’s consumption of glucose, its sole source of energy in the bloodstream and its systems for sterol synthesis, both necessary for the survival of the parasite. Several compounds that target the enzymes responsible for these systems have been successfully assayed, showing in vitro and in vivo activity against the parasite, besides having low or no detectable toxicity in cultured macaque cells and mice.

However, drug development is still a expensive endeavor and we might have to wait for long time before a cure is achieved.

More info about Chagas' Disease:

Doctors without borders

And a rough translation of a fragment of "Chagas, a silent tragedy", by Eduardo Galeano:

It doesn't explode like bombs, it doesn't sound like shots. Like hunger, kills silencing. Like hunger, kills the silent ones: to the ones who live condemned to the silence and die condemned to oblivion. Tragedy that doesn't sound, sick people that do not pay, a disease that doesn't make any sell. Chagas' disease is no business that attracts pharmaceutic industry nor subject interesting to politicians or journalists.

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