At the heart of South America, Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in the region. 40 percent of its 6.7 million residents live in chronic poverty. For this landlocked nation full of millions of poor, health care is not at the forefront of government policy, as poverty continues to send the population into crisis. As a result, the country has an unfortunately low life expectancy rate and is plagued with various diseases.
Of the many common diseases in Paraguay, a particular few have been of the most concern in the last several years. Among the top causes of death in Paraguay are coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes mellitus, influenza and pneumonia, cancer, kidney disease and hypertension.
The diseases with the greatest impact on the population are intestinal infectious diseases. These viruses, parasites and bacteria result in 107.7 annual years of healthy life lost per 100,000 people. Since 1990, the mortality rate of intestinal infectious diseases has increased by 6.1 percent per 100,000 people. Mostly infants die from these diseases, but the mortality rate peaks again for adult women and men ages 60 to 64. The diseases can be a result of unsafe water, poor sanitation and lack of hand washing. The most deadly of these diseases are caused by typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever.
Other infectious diseases are also common in Paraguay. Lower respiratory infections have a mortality rate of about 28 per 100,000 people. Diarrheal diseases, while common, have had a steady decreasing mortality rate since 1990 — a solid 79 percent decrease. Meningitis and tetanus are also common infectious diseases with decreasing mortality rates, while encephalitis and intestinal diseases remain at a steady infection rate.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control warned that Zika virus was present in Paraguay. Public health officials reported the virus was being carried and spread by infected mosquitoes, and also warned of the virus’s dangerous lack of symptoms. Pregnant women were at the highest risk, as infection during pregnancy causes harsher symptoms and serious birth defects.
In 2014, the National Eradication Service for Vector-Borne Diseases reported that the vector for the dangerous parasitic Chagas disease was found with increasing frequency in Paraguay. At first it was believed the vector was only found in rural and indigenous areas, but uncleanliness and housing insecurity of other poor areas have caused the vector to find a home between the bricks of houses, which mimic its normal dry habitat. An estimated 165,000 people in the country suffer from chronic Chagas disease. A bite from the protozoan parasite, Trypanosoma cruzi, can potentially be life-threatening.
The life-saving organization, Doctors Without Borders, has worked recently in Paraguay’s rural Chaco region, educating people in isolated communities about Chagas disease and offering screenings to locals. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls Chagas the “neglected tropical disease” because the vast majority of people affected do not have access to diagnosis or treatment. Most people affected experience symptoms without knowing why. Treatment is rapid and proves to be effective.
According to the WHO, in Paraguay, the probability of dying between the ages of 15 and 60 years is 166 for males and 126 for females per 1,000 people. Additionally, the country’s total expenditure on healthcare in 2014 was 9.8 percent of GDP. If Paraguay’s healthcare system were improved to prevent, treat and educate on disease and illness, many lives could be spared. As for now, organizations like Doctors Without Borders will continue to spread hope and educate on the common diseases in Paraguay which affect a majority of the population.
– Olivia Cyr