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Mexico's president vows to take care of Chagas patients

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed on Wednesday that Mexico would take care of indigenous patients in the Yucatan region who had been diagnosed with Chagas disease but given neither government tests nor treatment.

He spoke after the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed this week that patients in Oxkutzcab municipality had not received the anti-parasitic medication many need to treat Chagas.

“We’re going to hear them out,” he told a news conference at the National Palace when asked about the untreated patients. “We’re going to ask the health minister...to take care of it.”

Chagas, which is spread by infected blood-sucking bugs, is a parasitic disease that can enlarge the heart over years then cause sudden death.

For those meeting certain requirements, treatment is given free by the government. Medication cannot be bought so there is no alternative for those who fall through the net, with rural indigenous communities facing extra barriers accessing help.

But a lack of proactive testing, scant understanding of the disease and a shortfall of medical personnel mean that most of Mexico’s Chagas patients never even find out they are carriers.

Chagas afflicts about 7 million people globally and is known as a silent killer because it so often goes undetected.

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.

Asked about how the government would tackle the disease, Lopez Obrador said he would strengthen the health system and maintain higher, pandemic levels of staff and infrastructure.

An official from Mexico’s disease control agency Cenaprece told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it would soon start looking for new and more acute Chagas cases by testing children and women of child-bearing age in 78 high-risk areas.

Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

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