2. The Chagas School
In the Tenza valley, there is a school located at 1,850 meters (over 6,000 feet) above sea level. It has about 17 students spanning four different grades, including a child with special needs, taught by a single teacher.
They know Chagas well here. The children are visited by a team of support technicians from the vector control program. With booklets produced through a collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the DNDi (an initiative to develop medicines for neglected diseases), and explanations from Germán Pulido, children become front-line agents for detecting and controlling the disease’s vector. They spread this education in their homes.
“More vectors are reported during the weeks following the training, because the children actively search their homes and those of the adults who look after them”, technician Laura Lizarazo says.
However, the team faces time and resource constraints in its attempt to reach all the places where active vector searches need to be performed. They have limited resources to perform their task and reach remote places. Sometimes, they need to add their own resources to achieve this.
“65 municipalities in the department of Boyacá have reported the presence of the vector. In the Tenza Valley alone, 18 municipalities are highly affected. The pito is now present at altitudes where it was not found before, and in cities and towns where it was once similarly unknown. They were previously only found in rural areas, where there are many houses made of earth, bajareque or tapia pisada,” says Rafael Pérez from the vector control support team.
Indeed, close to the school, in a house with a structure that is traditional for the area, Germán Pulido does a spraying and dead pitos are subsequently found.
A Comprehensive Health Care Route for Chagas (RIAS) has been implemented for several years now in the departments with the highest incidence of the disease in Colombia. Thanks to this pilot project, developed in collaboration with DNDi, the number of persons diagnosed and treated has increased until 13-fold and 5-fold respectively. This shows that it is possible and crucial to diagnose and provide early treatment at the first tier of healthcare.
Report compiled during field visits by Javier Sancho and Ulrich-Dietmar Madeja. Images from Jorge Martinez.
To arrive on time to interrupt Chagas disease: