Nicaragua: MSF ends work with Chagas patients

MSF's role in promoting Chagas as part of the government's 10-year health plan has been an important step toward curbing the disease.

Now that the national health ministry has included Chagas disease in a new 10-year plan, and the rate of infections has dropped in one of the two municipalities in which MSF was active, it is no longer necessary for the organization to provide support to the Nicaraguan health authorities.

In the municipalities of Esquipulas and Totogalpa in Matagalpa province, MSF had assisted health authorities in prevention, identification and treatment of the disease, which is transmitted by a blood-sucking insect. MSF held a symposium in May 2005 and published a booklet describing its work and recommendations, thereby transferring its knowledge and experience to local health authorities, nongovernmental organizations and other parties involved in helping those with Chagas.

The insects that spread Chagas disease live in the walls and roofs of huts made from hay and mud in rural areas across Latin America. Because the victims are almost all poor, Chagas does not attract significant investments from the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, health workers generally have to treat patients with old and often-ineffective drugs. These medications are unable to kill the parasite in the chronic, lethal phase; are powerless against certain varieties of the parasite; and often cause serious side effects.

MSF operated its project in Esquipulas for two years and in Totogalpa for seven months. Its teams of experts have conducted groundbreaking work in screening and treatment as well as in killing the bugs. In addition, the projects in Nicaragua have contributed to the organization's global campaign aimed at putting neglected diseases on the agendas of governments and pharmaceutical companies.

The MSF intervention leaves an important legacy. Its role in promoting Chagas as part of the government's 10-year health plan has been an important step toward curbing the disease. The May symposium inspired a local organization to improve 500 houses in an area heavily affected by Chagas, to minimize the risk that children receiving treatment for the disease could become re-infected by the insects. In addition, the MSF team introduced a new method for rapidly screening large numbers of people for the infection.

MSF worked in Nicaragua from 1983 until May 2005.

INTERNATIONAL STAFF 4
NATIONAL STAFF 19
(until May 2005)