Mexico: Chagas project closes

While the Drugs For Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) of which MSF is a founding partner, has put the development of new Chagas medicines high on its agenda, progress will take time.

Chagas is one of the world's most neglected diseases (see box). According to Mexico's National Institute of Cardiology and Institute of Public Health, an estimated 1.8 million Mexicans are infected with this little-recognized disease. Mexico is the only country in Latin America where Chagas is present that has no national program to address it.

Only 50 cases are identified each year by the ministry of health - despite some studies findings that as many as 30 percent of the people in some isolated communities are living with the disease.

In 2004, an MSF study of the disease in selected high-risk zones of Chiapas found a Chagas prevalence rate of 2.3 percent among children under the age of 14 - the age up to which successful treatment is still possible. All of the children who tested positive were older than eight, confirming the likelihood that they had not been recently infected.

The 2.3 percent prevalence of Chagas in those under 14 did not justify an MSF intervention. Nevertheless, it was enough to justify a public health response. MSF lobbied the Chiapas government and Mexican Ministry of Health to recognize Chagas as a problem deserving attention. The Chiapas Ministry of Health has committed itself to work on Chagas in 2005.

Still, much more needs to be done on the national level to prevent the disease, particularly as people continue to become infected by the vector in high-transmission areas and through blood transfusions. While the Drugs For Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) of which MSF is a founding partner, has put the development of new Chagas medicines high on its agenda, progress will take time.

MSF ended its activities in Mexico at the end of 2004. MSF worked in Mexico from 1998 through 2004.

INTERNATIONAL STAFF 24
NATIONAL STAFF 31
(until December 2004)