Chagas disease is a global economic burden that costs countries more than other prominent diseases, according to the first study to put a price tag on the deadly disease.
The new figures obtained from a mathematical model estimate the global and regional costs of healthcare and loss of productivity related to Chagas disease and could help to focus policymakers on tackling the disease.
Latin America, where the disease is endemic, pays the greatest price, with Brazil, Argentina and Mexico bearing the brunt, says the study, published last month (8 February) in The Lancet.
- Chagas disease costs US$7 billion globally — more than other prominent diseases
- Latin America pays the greatest price, but the disease is spreading beyond tropics
- The study's findings 'could help put the disease on the global agenda'
But it adds that Chagas is spreading beyond tropical and subtropical regions.
"The global cost of Chagas disease is US$7 billion per year," Peter Hotez, director of the Sabin Vaccine Institute's Product Development Partnership, United States, and one of the study's authors, tells SciDev.Net.
"If we think that 99 per cent of that cost comes from the Western Hemisphere ― Latin America and the United States ― it is a pretty devastating amount of money," he adds.
The WHO estimates that ten million people in the world are infected with Chagas disease ― a life-threatening sickness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi ― and that eight million of them live in Latin America.
The global economic costs of Chagas are higher than for other prominent diseases, such as rotavirus (US$2 billion a year) and cervical cancer (US$4.7 billion a year), the study says.
"Chagas disease develops slowly, with people only having heart problems down the road, so it has a lot of hidden costs and ends up being more expensive than people think [it will be]," says Bruce Lee, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, United States, and the study's lead author.
Lee says that countries can use the study figures to compare the costs of Chagas with those of other diseases.
"No country has unlimited resources, so those who see that the burden of Chagas is quite substantial may be motivated to spend more time and money in the prevention of the disease," he adds.
Tania Araújo-Jorge, director of Brazilian biomedical research centre the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, says that the study's findings are "extremely useful in putting Chagas disease on the political agenda".
"The social argument should be sufficient with an endemic disease of this enormous burden," she adds, but "it is clearly better to have an economic argument than to rely only on general estimates".
Cynthia Spillman, coordinator of Argentina's National Chagas Programme, says: "Sickness rates and death figures are important to understand a public health problem, but this kind of study also demonstrates how much you can save if you control the problem".
Link to full study in The Lancet (*free registration required)
The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S1473–3099(13)70002–1 (2013)