Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) affect 1.7 billion people around the world and occur mostly in poor countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In January, the WHO set out global targets to tackle 20 of the diseases by 2030, with governments committing to sustain efforts that have seen 42 countries each eradicate at least one NTD in the last decade.

One of these diseases is Chagas, a parasitic disease known as a silent killer because it so often goes undetected. It is spread mostly via the feces of blood-sucking bugs.

The WHO estimates some 7 million people, mostly in Latin America, are infected with Chagas, with 70 million more at risk.

Traditionally thought of as a disease affecting South America's rural poor, Chagas is increasingly found in urban areas and richer countries like the United States and Spain. The disease, discovered by Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas more than a century ago, can be difficult to find because symptoms in the acute phase are similar to other illnesses, and many patients are asymptomatic.

Between 2003 to 2020 Mexico's government confirmed just 11,980 Chagas cases, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request. Academics have estimated that Mexico has 1 to 2 million cases, figures the government rejects.

The coronavirus pandemic slowed Mexico's already limited testing and the number of diagnoses more than halved in 2020 compared to 2019 as COVID-19 overwhelmed the health system. Last year the number of people treated fell to just 391 from more than 850 in both 2018 and 2019, the government said.

If treated quickly with one of two medications, Chagas can be cured. But neither is available commercially in Mexico, where the only way to get them is through the health ministry.

Chagas patients are more likely to be cured if they are treated soon after infection, making early detection key. But most of Mexico's infected are never tested or treated, academics say, putting them at risk of an enlarged heart and sudden death. Some live with Chagas for decades without symptoms. But Janine Ramsey, a researcher with the Mexican government's National Institute for Public Health, estimates that 40% of people infected in Mexico will have a shortened life.

Read the full article about Chagas Disease by Christine Murray at Global Citizen.