The New HIV/AIDS of the AmericasChagas disease, a vector-borne infectious disease that is transmitted through triatomine bugs, has been dubbed “the new HIV/AIDS of the Americas.” Triatomine bugs are also known as “kissing bugs,” because the bugs will bite and defecate near the mouths of humans. Then, humans will touch or rub near their mouths, which is how the disease is spread.

Furthermore, Chagas disease is a type of neglected tropical disease, which have become increasingly virulent in North and South America. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines neglected diseases as being “largely wiped out in the more developed parts of the world and persist only in the poorest, most marginalized communities and conflict areas.” The CDC indicated that people of low socioeconomic status are more susceptible to contracting a neglected tropical disease. People of low socioeconomic status, which are increasingly reflective of minority groups such as women and people of color, are at higher risk of contracting a neglected tropical disease due to a lack of resources.

Like Chagas disease, many neglected tropical diseases are vector-borne, and they must travel through an intermediate host in order to transmit infections to humans. An example of an intermediate host that carries the specific pathogens for an abundance of neglected tropical diseases is the mosquito. Many countries in South America have climates and ecologies that are ideal for mosquitoes to flourish in.

Preventative programs in poor areas are supported by organizations such as the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO). For instance, the CDC and the WHO have both collaborated in order to support the Guinea Worm Eradication Program, which provided surveillance and diagnosed people for Guinea worms, another neglected disease.

Chagas disease is difficult to eradicate due to the fact that more than half of triatomine bugs in the United States carry the disease; however, the CDC reports that the best measures to take in order to prevent the spread of Chagas disease are vector control, blood screening and diagnosis of infection. Diagnosis of infection in pregnant women is especially important, because the disease can spread to their newborns. By continuing to follow these measures, the effect of Chagas disease can be limited, decreasing the burden on vulnerable populations.


Emily Santora

Photo: Flickr

Global Trachoma Mapping Project
“The Global Trachoma Mapping Project is the largest infectious disease survey in history with the aim of eliminating the disease by 2020,” says BBC.

This initiative is led by Sightsavers and has been active in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. It aims to uncover where Trachoma is most active so treatment can be focused there, eventually eliminating the disease by 2020 and meeting the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate Trachoma.

Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world. Though it can be prevented through antibiotics, surgery, face washing, and a sanitary environment, today 39 million people suffer from blindness. 80 percent of these cases could be prevented or cured and 90 percent of these cases reside in the poorest region in the world.

In the early 1900s, Trachoma was endemic in the United States and Europe. Immigrants to the United States were thoroughly screened for Trachoma infection when the arrived at Ellis Island, and nine out of ten who were diagnosed were sent back to their original country. Trachoma has disappeared in Europe due to improved living standards, without the aid of antibiotics.

Today around 232 million people live in trachoma-endemic regions and are in desperate need of treatment. TrachomaAtlas estimates that 7.2 million people live with advanced Trachoma— where the eyelashes turn inward and scrape the cornea, an extremely painful condition. These individuals will be blind or visually impaired if they do not receive a simple surgery— something that Sightsavers, with the help of the Global Trachoma Mapping Project, aims to provide.

Trachoma is not a widely known disease— it is rampant in isolated, rural regions where people have very little to no access to healthcare and water. The Trachoma Coalition says that “In some communities, the disease is so common that blindness from Trachoma is simply accepted as a fact of life.”

Trachoma is known as a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD). These diseases are referred to as ‘neglected’ because they impact the poorest regions in the world as well as the world’s most vulnerable— remote rural areas, urban slums and conflict zones, according to SightSaver’s website.

Data from the Global Trachoma Mapping project has starkly illuminated that NTDS are just as impactful in terms of sickness, disability and death as more well-known diseases (HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria). The need for information on where these diseases are most prevalent is dire.

The Global Trachoma Mapping project aims to also combine technology with medical research. Data is uploaded through smartphones onto a virtual Trachoma Atlas. Then, the data is instantly available for governments, NGOs, and other aid agencies to target treatment where it is most urgent.

The initiative began in 2012 and is funded by the United Kingdom, which has provided over ten million pounds towards the effort.

In 2014, Sightsavers implemented over 13.8 million eye examinations, over 296,000 operations to restore sight or prevent blindness, and helped over 9,000 children with disabilities attend school. The Global Trachoma Mapping Initiative hopes to increase these numbers by finding where the most vulnerable are and helping them.

Seven countries where Trachoma used to be endemic (Gambia, Ghana, Iran, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman and Vietnam) have claimed to have been in some stage of eradicating Trachoma as a public health endemic.

Aaron Andree

Sources: BBC, Trachoma Atlas, Trachoma Coalition, Sight Savers

Neglected tropical diseases are poorly understood, lack appropriate control tools, receive smaller investments in research and development, and affect people living in remote rural areas with limited access to treatment. Innovative and Intensified Disease Management (IDN) focuses on overcoming these hurdles to control, and hopefully eradicate NTDs.

These are seven diseases that the World Health Organization classifies as neglected.

1. Buruli Ulcer
Buruli Ulcer is characterized by a swelling in the skin called a nodule, which eventually spreads to become large ulcers typically appearing on arms and legs. Infection is caused by a germ from the same family as leprosy and tuberculosis. Cases have been reported in over 30 countries, but primarily in poor rural communities. Progress is being made toward a vaccine able to treat Buruli Ulcer, but in the meantime the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine offers some protection.

2. Dengue
Dengue is a viral infection spread through mosquito bites. The infection causes severe flu-like symptoms, and can sometimes lead to a deadly condition called severe dengue. The disease thrives in urban poor areas in tropical and subtropical communities. Severe dengue has become a leading cause of death among children and adults in Asian and Latin American countries.

3. Leishmaniasis
Leishmaniasis is a disease that can be directly linked to poverty. It is associated with malnutrition, displacement, poor housing, weakened immune systems and lack of resources. The interaction of Visceral Leishmaniasis (VL) with HIV has devastating consequences; a simultaneous HIV infection increases the risk of developing active VL by up to 2320 times. 90% of all VL cases occur in Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Nepal and Sudan.

4. Leprosy
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that exists in extremely impoverished communities. It affects the skin, nerves, upper respiratory tract and eyes. Most countries have achieved elimination at the national level, and are intensifying their efforts at regional and district levels. It is estimated that up to two million people are visibly disabled due to leprosy. Education, early diagnosis and adequate medicinal interventions are key elements for eradicating the disease.

5. Rabies
Rabies is a vaccine-preventable disease transmitted from animals to humans by a virus present in the saliva of infected carriers. Bites or scratches from infected animals are the most common form of transmission to humans. The disease infects both domestic and wild animals. If left untreated, Rabies is almost always fatal.

6. Trachoma
Trachoma is caused by a microorganism which spreads through contact with eye discharge from an infected person. A single episode is not considered sight-threatening, but prolonged, repeated infection can lead to scarring inside the eyelid, which in turn causes scarring of the cornea. If left untreated, Trachoma leads to permanent blindness. Trachoma affects 21.4 million people, often striking women and children. Factors such as water shortage, poor hygiene conditions and crowded households have caused the infection to be extremely common in many of the poorest regions of the world.

7. Yaws
Yaws is a chronic bacterial infection that occurs mostly in poor communities in the humid tropical regions as a result of overcrowding, poor sanitation and other poverty-related issues. Skin-to-skin contact with an infected person leads to development of a single lesion; if left untreated, lesions will spread to the entire body. Nearly 75% of people affected are children under 15 years, and although rarely fatal, yaws can lead to chronic disfigurement and disability. Experts are confident that the disease can be controlled and possibly eradicated. India for example, has seen no new yaws cases since 2004.

– Dana Johnson

Source: WHO, WHO Resolution