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A new strategy to eliminate Chagas disease by 2010 was launched last week (4 July) at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

"While Chagas disease is controlled in many countries in the Americas, commitment must be strengthened as elimination of the disease is now attainable," Margaret Chan, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general said in a press release.

"Cases identified in non-endemic countries have demonstrated the need to globalise our efforts," she added.

As part of its goal, the WHO established a new 'Global Network for Chagas Elimination' to coordinate global efforts towards the prevention of disease transmission.

Chagas disease is a potentially life-threatening illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is transmitted to people by blood-sucking insects ('kissing bugs'), often found in poor rural communities in Latin America.

However, in recent years, migration of people from Latin America to other parts of the world has spread Chagas disease to countries in Europe, and parts of Canada and the United States.

The WHO's strategy will focus on finding an effective diagnostic test for screening and diagnosis of Chagas disease, setting up systems to prevent Chagas transmission through blood transfusions and organ transplantation and strengthening existing epidemiological systems.

It will also focus on congenital transmission — from mother to newborn child — by working to prevent transmission and put together adequate and universal case management methods.

The pharmaceutical industry will provide financial support to the network, and donate drugs to treat 30,000 patients over a period of five years — 2.5 million tablets.

According to WHO estimates, less than eight million people remain infected in the Americas.

Roberto Salvatella, consultant for the WHO in Uruguay, told SciDev.Net that they have made good progress in halting the transmission of Chagas disease from insects to humans in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, and have had partial success in Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay.

But he added that in other Latin American countries, while there has been important progress with low incidence of new cases and a decrease in home infection, insect to human transmission is still a problem.

Annually, there are 41,000 new cases of Chagas disease in the Americas through insect transmission and 14,000 by congenital transmission. There is also a small — but not registered — transmission by blood transfusion and organ transplantation from infected donors within Latin America and abroad.

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