Chances are you have never heard of Chagas disease. If you live in Bolivia, you undoubtedly have heard of it and sadly, probably have experience with it. Chagas disease is a parasitic disease transmitted with an insect bite, like malaria, found primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean. Chagas disease is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease in Latin America, causing irreversible damage to the heart and other organs.
Bolivia has the highest rate of infection in the world, affecting about 20% of the population. Some areas of the country have infection rates as high as 32%. Our work to combat Chagas disease in Bolivia has established Esperanca as a leader in the fight against this horrible disease. We have been working with our local Bolivian partner, Esperanza/Bolivia since 2002 and have made significant strides in decreasing levels of Chagas disease within the southern regions of the country. Communities that we have served through this program now have Chagas infection rates of less than 5%. Our project has been replicated by the national government in other parts of the country as well.
Esperança uses a three-pronged approach to eliminating Chagas disease which includes: preventative education, improving housing conditions through repair and construction of new homes, and providing treatment for those infected. All three components are necessary for an effective intervention.
Interestingly, reports have surfaced recently about the spread of Chagas disease to the United States, http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/chagas-tropical-disease-really-aids-145745645.html.
As the world gets smaller and we become more interconnected, our work to bring health to the less fortunate around the world seems all the more urgent and important.