In the Santa Bérbara region of Honduras, entire communities are being enlisted in the battle against chinches—an enemy with a hearty appetite. Chinches are bloodsucking bugs two to three centimetres long. During the day they hide in the cracks of mud, adobe, or straw walls and roofs. At night, they emerge to feast on fresh human blood, transmitting the parasite Trypanosomoa cruzi, more commonly known as Chagas disease.
About 600,000 Hondurans are affected by Chagas disease, which usually starts with a high fever and swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound. Although the symptoms disappear, the disease persists, only to reappear decades later and attack vital organs, such as the heart and colon. Several cases have even been recently diagnosed in Canada, probably arriving with travellers from Latin America.
Canada, through CIDA, in close cooperation with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and the Pan American Health Organization, has helped the Government of Honduras prepare a national plan to prevent and control Chagas disease. This plan has been recognized as a model for harmonizing international cooperation.
CIDA has also supported the plan in other ways: by contributing C$1.75 million and providing goods such as insecticides and motor vehicles, and technical services such as information management, human-resource training, and institution building.
So far, key results include these:
In the small community of El Edén de Ceguaca, nestled in the mountaintops, the battle involves everyone. "The whole village is helping to fight it," says Isaac López, an environmental health technician. Nurses go from school to school to identify cases of infection. Experts spray small rural houses with insecticide. An army of community workers make people aware of the disease's causes, signs, and symptoms.
"You have to educate people to get rid of parasites and the harm they do," Dr. Carlos Ponce, head of the Chagas Disease Research Laboratory in Honduras, insists. "People commonly believe that an insect in the house is a sign of good luck. We have developed and distributed large, colourful posters that show the frightful creatures, explain how to recognize them and advise people to show them no mercy."
This task is assigned to the children of the village. Armed with medical pincers and plastic bags, they go hunting for chinches when they get out of school. The insects they catch are identified and reported to a volunteer at the nearest health centre. "Chinches don't scare me," says little Cindi, recognized for her talents as a bug hunter. "I scare them! You won't find any at my house!"
Because there is a direct link between extreme poverty and Chagas disease it takes a whole series of different measures to eliminate the disease completely. Beyond getting rid of the bugs, the thatched roofs in the village must be replaced with tin roofs. An effort is also being made to bring health services closer to remote rural communities. "The process doesn't end by fumigating houses or treating the disease," Dr. Ponce explains. "It ends when living conditions genuinely improve."