Study raises hopes of shorter treatment time for Chagas patients

A possible breakthrough in the fight against Chagas: A recent study has shown that an alternative approach to combating the neglected tropical disease may be associated with fewer side effects and a shorter treatment time.

Chagas is transmitted by bugs Photo: WHO

Worldwide, around six million people are affected by Chagas. The disease is transmitted by infected blood-sucking triatomine bugs and can cause damage to the heart, brain and intestines in the long term. Estimates assume around 30,000 new cases and 14,000 fatalities every year.

The treatment recommended by the World Health Organization takes eight weeks and causes severe side effects in patients. “These two factors result in many patients stopping the treatment or not starting in the first place,” says Dr. Marc Bonenberger, epidemiologist and program officer at FAIRMED.

Falling costs
However, a recent study led by the Geneva-based scientific organisation Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is raising the hopes of those affected by the disease. The study indicates that a shorter treatment can be just as effective and is associated with fewer side effects. “This would be a fantastic development for patients and for the national programs that are combating Chagas, because the costs of the treatment would also decrease thanks to the shorter treatment time,” says Bonenberger.

However, it should be noted that only 210 patients participated in the study. “In my opinion, it is doubtful that the WHO will recommend the proposed change on the basis of these findings. It may be necessary to undertake a further study with a higher number of patients and in a real-life context,” he explains. “In addition, even after an adoption of the recommendation by the WHO, a great deal of educational work would be required to ensure that the new treatment is also able to reach those people who have previously stopped or turned down a course of treatment due to the side effects,” thinks Marc Bonenberger.