Chagas disease - 10 stories that mattered in access to medicines in 2011

“In this area of Boquerón, with one of the highest rates of Chagas in Paraguay, we are being forced slow down the rate at which we test people for the disease because we simply don’t have the drugs to treat them.”
- Dr. Henry RODRÍGUEZ, MSF Head of Mission in Bolivia and Paraguay, October 2011

Drug shortages threaten moves to expand treatment for Chagas disease

New treatment programmes for Chagas are being put on hold because of shortages of benznidazole, the main drug used to treat this neglected parasitic disease.

The shortages have been caused, among other factors, by a lack of planning for new production by LAFEPE, Brazil’s state-owned laboratory where benznidazole is manufactured.  As a result, MSF has been forced to suspend plans to expand treatment for Chagas in Bolivia, the country hardest-hit, and also had to slow down screening patients for the disease in Paraguay for a period.

Other treatment providers have also been hit by the shortage.  Following an international outcry, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is now publically committed to speeding up the manufacture of the drug and other necessary regulatory steps, so that 3.2 million new tablets for adults will be made available by the end of this year.  This amount of medication is sufficient to cover the treatment needs in 2012 for those who will be diagnosed with the disease next year and need to be put on treatment.

MSF is now calling for an early warning system to be put in place to prevent the situation from happening again.  

Many countries in Latin America have just started to expand their Chagas treatment programmes after new medical evidence showed the benefits of treatment with benznidazole for more patients.

On a positive note, a new child-adapted formulation of benznidazole, delivered by the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and LAFEPE, has been registered in Brazil.  Until now, caregivers, in the absence of child-adapted formulations, have had to roughly chop up adult tablets, before crushing them up and mixing with liquid so children could take the medicine.  The new formulation should allow for more accurate dosing of children under two years of age.