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Mem Inst Oswaldo Cruz. 2002 Jul;97(5):603-12.

The impact of Chagas disease control in Latin America: a review.

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Centro de Pesquisas René Rachou, Fiocruz, Belo Horizonte, MG, 30190-002, Brasil.


Discovered in 1909, Chagas disease was progressively shown to be widespread throughout Latin America, affecting millions of rural people with a high impact on morbidity and mortality. With no vaccine or specific treatment available for large-scale public health interventions, the main control strategy relies on prevention of transmission, principally by eliminating the domestic insect vectors and control of transmission by blood transfusion. Vector control activities began in the 1940s, initially by means of housing improvement and then through insecticide spraying following successful field trials in Brazil (Bambui Research Centre), with similar results soon reproduced in São Paulo, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile. But national control programmes only began to be implemented after the 1970s, when technical questions were overcome and the scientific demonstration of the high social impact of Chagas disease was used to encourage political determination in favour of national campaigns (mainly in Brazil). Similarly, large-scale screening of infected blood donors in Latin America only began in the 1980s following the emergence of AIDS. By the end of the last century it became clear that continuous control in contiguous endemic areas could lead to the elimination of the most highly domestic vector populations - especially Triatoma infestans and Rhodnius prolixus - as well as substantial reductions of other widespread species such as T. brasiliensis, T. sordida, and T. dimidiata, leading in turn to interruption of disease transmission to rural people. The social impact of Chagas disease control can now be readily demonstrated by the disappearance of acute cases and of new infections in younger age groups, as well as progressive reductions of mortality and morbidity rates in controlled areas. In economic terms, the cost-benefit relationship between intervention (insecticide spraying, serology in blood banks) and the reduction of Chagas disease (in terms of medical and social care and improved productivity) is highly positive. Effective control of Chagas disease is now seen as an attainable goal that depends primarily on maintaining political will, so that the major constraints involve problems associated with the decentralisation of public health services and the progressive political disinterest in Chagas disease. Counterbalancing this are the political and technical cooperation strategies such as the "Southern Cone Initiative" launched in 1991. This international approach, coordinated by PAHO, has been highly successful, already reaching elimination of Chagas disease transmission in Uruguay, Chile, and large parts of Brazil and Argentina. The Southern Cone Initiative also helped to stimulate control campaigns in other countries of the region (Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru) which have also reached tangible regional successes. This model of international activity has been shown to be feasible and effective, with similar initiatives developed since 1997 in the Andean Region and in Central America. At present, Mexico and the Amazon Region remain as the next major challenges. With consolidation of operational programmes in all endemic countries, the future focus will be on epidemiological surveillance and care of those people already infected. In political terms, the control of Chagas disease in Latin America can be considered, so far, as a victory for international scientific cooperation, but will require continuing political commitment for sustained success.

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