Research to reduce the transmission of dengue and Chagas disease

Towards improved Chagas and dengue disease control through innovative ecosystem management and community-directed interventions: an eco-bio-social research programme on Chagas and dengue disease control in Latin America

Beginning on World Health Day, 7 April, 2014, TDR is profiling 5 Latin American countries that are looking at how to reduce the risks and transmission of dengue and Chagas disease. The research is investigating how communities and health services can work together to develop healthy solutions that often reduce the use of insecticides and improve overall housing conditions.

Implemented by TDR in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, this work is being conducted in 7 Latin American countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Uruguay.

Below is a preview of two of the research sites. Three more profiles will be published during 2014, and final research results are expected by the end of the year.

Dengue research in Colombia

The city of Girardot, located on the banks of the Magdalene River in Colombia, is an important summer vacation spot. The region’s tropical climate draws not only tourists but also provides the perfect conditions for the reproduction of the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits the dengue virus that can be deadly.

Chagas disease in Bolivia

In Palmarito, Bolivia, a simple farming lifestyle has not changed much in hundreds of years. Water is still collected and carried by hand, there is no electricity, and the homes are simple mud hut structures. People depend on chickens and pigs for food, and they keep them close. But this lifestyle is in danger from a small bug called a triatomine, or “el timbucu” as the locals call it, which transmits a parasite to animals and people. It hides in the cracks of mud walls, under mattresses and in the fur of animals.

Dr Johannes Sommerfeld, TDR scientist and research manager

Dengue is a major public health problem throughout Latin America, particularly in cities. At the same time, Chagas disease is persisting and re-emerging in different rural ecological zones of the continent, notably in the Northern Cone of Latin America and Central America. Environmental management is particularly important for controlling these diseases.

This TDR project is based on IDRC’s ecohealth approach and combines research on the vectors that carry the diseases with multi-stakeholder engagement. We call this eco-bio-social research, and the approach has provided evidence that a new environmental and community approach can in fact not only reduce vector densities but empower communities to tackle the social and environmental determinants that render them at risk for vector-borne diseases.

We have been pleased to work with the Ecosystem and Human Health Program of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to develop and implement this extensive multi-country project, and with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), who are helping to transition the research evidence into policy and practice.