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Patients go untreated for tropical disease in Paraguay

Earlier this month, the medical aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement that it had stopped diagnosing new cases of Chagas disease in Paraguay.

The halt to its treatment programme for this disease in the country (and also in regions of Bolivia) has been forced on the organization by a shortage in the first-line drug used as treatment. The drug, benznidazole, is produced by only one laboratory in the world located in Brazil. A slowdown in production has occurred there due to a lack in supply of the active pharmaceutical ingredient needed to make the drug.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Chagas disease affects more than 10 million people worldwide each year. Most infections occur in Latin America, but with increased travel, cases have also appeared in the USA, Canada, Europe and some Western Pacific countries. The disease is caused by a microscopic parasite called Trypamosoma cruzi. This is normally transmitted to humans in the faeces of Triatomine insects, particularly where housing conditions are unsanitary. Initial symptoms of Chagas disease include tiredness, fever or abdominal pain and left untreated, sufferers can be debilitated for years. Eventually, the parasites infect the heart and digestive muscles, which can lead to death from heart failure. 

Acute Chagas is especially lethal in children and programmes to fight the disease have focused on the young. However, organizations such as MSF, have been extending treatment to adults in endemic areas of Central America and the increase in the number of diagnosed patients has lead to the rise in demand for the drug treatment. Chagas disease is one of the most neglected of tropical illnesses. The only two available drugs for treating it are more than 40 years old and both cause side-effects in many sufferers. However, any treatment is better than no treatment.

The earlier sufferers take drug treatment for Chagas disease, the more effective it proves and patients are left with fewer health complications. MSF have warned that they will be unable to continue reversing the effects from this cruel disease unless an increase in benznidazole can be ensured. The organization has therefore called on the Brazilian Ministry of Health, which is responsible for the laboratory which makes the drug, to act swiftly and find a solution to the shortage. In this way, the organization says the Brazilian government will be continuing with its pioneering attitude to the production of generic drugs and keeping its commitment to Chagas patients worldwide.

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