As the most expensive World Cup ever is set to begin in Brazil, a “yellow card” warning must be raised about one of Latin America’s most serious public health threats: Almost 6 million of the most vulnerable people living in the nine participating Latin American countries today do not receive treatment for their most debilitating neglected tropical disease.
Chagas disease is a leading cause of severe and life-threatening heart disease of the extreme poor in the Americas and gradually is becoming a disease that affects all social classes around the world. It is caused by a microscopic parasite known as a trypanosome that can be transmitted to humans when they are bitten by blood-feeding “kissing bugs” at night. Trypanosomes have the ability to invade human hearts and cause severe cardiac damage.
The disease affects mainly people who live in poverty, mostly because their poor-quality houses allow the “kissing bug” vector to thrive in the cracks and crevices of mud, brick and thatch. Throughout South and Central America it strikes those who live in squalor often not far from nearby areas of great wealth. Read the rest of the article here
The phrase “the 800-pound gorilla in the room” refers to an obvious problem that everyone knows exists but pretends or chooses to ignore. In my December 2007 PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases editorial I wrote about an unseemly underbelly of poverty that exists in my country, the United States of America, and the unacceptable disease burden among our poor that results from such neglected diseases as toxocariasis, cysticercosis, and toxoplasmosis. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) (the regional office of the World Health Organization in the Americas) the Latin American and Caribbean region suffers from much larger pockets of poverty, and with it endemic neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). While researching a review of the NTDs in Latin America, I was particularly struck by the disproportionate concentration of these conditions among the poor living in Brazil. Although there are no gorillas in the rooms of Brazil I have concluded that the NTDs represent an ominous giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla, the largest species of anteater found in Brazil and elsewhere in the American tropics) that requires notice, attention, and urgent action.
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