Published: Monday 31 July 1995

-- Chagas' disease, a debilitating tropical scourge named after Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas, is threatening to swamp Bolivia. Half of the nation's 3.5 million strong population is exposed to the disease; 1.2 million are known sufferers, while 86,000 new cases are reported every year.

The disease is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite, which is passed on in the fecal matter of the Vinchuca beetle. The Vinchuca thrives in the habitations most used by the rural poor, breeding in crevices and straw roofs. The parasite lodges itself in the heart, intestines and muscle tissues of its victim, leading eventually to premature heart failure.

Chagas control programmes in the country, too few and far between, have been ineffective. In Santa Cruz, 49-63 per cent of stored blood, originating from affected donors, is infected with the parasite. Plans to eradicate the disease from 570,000 homes in the next 10 years include fumigation programmes, housing improvement and strictly monitored blood transfusions.(ips)

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