Chagas disease — a debilitating disease caused by a parasite in the feces of the Triatominae, also known as kissing, vampire or assassin bugs — is a neglected tropical disease, a term for diseases that affect the poorest communities in the world. But this disease, endemic in rural areas of Latin America, also currently infects 300,000 people in the United States. In addition to the impact on people who become infected — including an acute phase, which usually occurs unnoticed, and a chronic stage, which develops over many years and can include intestinal and cardiac complications — the disease costs the U.S. economy an estimated $900 million annually.
There were many surprised looks in the audience when panelists mentioned the prevalence of Chagas disease in the U.S. at a global health event on Thursday in Washington, D.C. The discussion was organized by the Global Health Technologies Coalition, 25 nonprofit organizations advocating for research and development for new drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other global health technologies to coincide with the release of a report called “Return on innovation: Why global health R&D is a smart investment for the United States.”
Following the event, Devex spoke with Jamie Bay Nishi, director of GHTC, about takeaways from the report and how they will inform the organization’s advocacy efforts. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
GHTC looks at all of the federal agencies leading the U.S. effort to support global health R&D, from the Department of State to the Department of Defense. This report helped me to understand the unique contributions each of those agencies makes. What were the key takeaways for you and how will they inform your work?