Staff Writer

In a bid to exterminate Chagas disease from the Latin American region, Boston Scientific (Natick, Massachusetts) recently launched a corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign to raise awareness of the disease with donations in cash and equipment. The ultimate aim is to stop the spread of the disease and help patients.

Chagas Disease is a tropical parasitic disease caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi. It is spread mostly by insects known as Triatominae or kissing bugs. The symptoms change over the course of the infection. In the early stage, symptoms are typically either not present or mild and may include: fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, or local swelling at the site of the bite. After 8–12 weeks, individuals enter the chronic phase of disease and in 60%–70% it never produces further symptoms. The other 30% to 40% of people develop further symptoms 10 to 30 years after the initial infection. This includes enlargement of the ventricles of the heart in 20% to 30% leading to heart failure. An enlarged esophagus or an enlarged colon may also occur in 10% of people.

The new campaign is based on mobile penetration in the region.

"This is our first CSR campaign in Argentina and in Latin America, and I had the idea of developing an online game that would bring people to know a little bit more about how to treat various diseases and we saw that this was a good opportunity," Mariano Plis, regional marketing manager for Latin America at Boston Scientific, told Medical Device Daily.

It took about a year for the Latin American team from Boston Scientific to find the right partners to develop the mobile app and the right partners on the field, before launching their campaign.

"We teamed up with an agency that develops CSR [for companies] that looks to nonprofit organizations, and we asked them to conduct the search of one that complies with different criteria, such as total transparency in the management of the funds, regional and international presence, and we were also looking for a not too big nonprofit organization that would make all the work to get lost," said Plis.

Boston Scientific selected Medecins du Monde (Paris), which has operated in Argentina since 1985 under Medicos del Mundo (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Médecins du Monde operates 169 health programs in 14 countries. In Latin America, the nonprofit organization has local presence in Argentina, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay. "They have large experience in working in the collective health of the people," said Plis.

In Argentina, Médicos del Mundo operates health programs in nine provinces.

Boston Scientific´s donations are divided in two components. The company will donate $30,000 in cash to help in a prevention campaign against chagas that Médicos del Mundo is conducting in the northern part of the country.

"Specifically in the Chaco province, where because of the housing conditions, people are very exposed," Plis said. Médicos del Mundo is also campaigning against chagas in the Formosa province.

The other component of donations will be given in medical devices to help patients.

"We will donate eight implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)," said Plis. There are 15 different models of Boston Scientific ICDs in the market. The average cost of each unit ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. The total cost of donations in cash and devices will add $150,000.

ICDs are vital in the fight against Chagas.

"Patients with advanced stages of the disease develop certain cardiopathies. To prevent a sudden death, it is required to implant an ICD," said Plis.

Isabela Ribeiro, head of the Chagas Clinical Program at the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (Geneva, Switzerland) remarked on the importance of ICDs in the fight against chagas. "It is important to count with treatment options in all the stages of the disease, and also for [patients] that require the ICDs," she said.

Another target for Boston Scientific is to raise public awareness. To this end the company developed an online game called Monster Fix that can be downloaded as an app in smartphones, tablets and computers (www.monsterfix.org).

"[They are] friendly little monsters that are suffering these diseases (...) [The app] allows users to learn more about the prevention of certain diseases," said Plis. The game has 12 levels with six diseases.

In upcoming weeks, Boston Scientific plans to release 12 new levels across six more diseases.

"After two weeks of having launched the app, we have registered 8,000 (users) and almost 6 million points," said Plis. Each time a player wins a level by saving a monster and preventing the disease, the player credits points to the CSR project," he added. Once the community of players reach 10 million points, donations will be released.

"Thanks to the technology we can reach a massive audience to whom you can talk about disease prevention with an accessible language for all and the objective of entertain and help [at the same time]," said Plis. The app is available through the App Store and Google Play.

Greater awareness, should also help with prevention and early diagonosis.

"Many of us credit the importance of early diagnosis and early treatment to prevent late cardiac events," Ribeiro said. "There´s a consensus that cardiopathy comes form the persistence of the parasite in the heart´s tissue and as a result from an immunologic response from that persistent presence of the parasite over the years."

The campaign will go beyond public awareness and donations.

"This campaign will train professionals specialists of the public health system dependent form the Ministry of Public Health of Chaco, for cardiovascular interventions," said Médicos del Mundo in a press release.

"The idea is to develop [the CSR] campaign in the rest of the countries [of the region]," said Plis. The company aims to move the campaign to other countries of the region in early 2015.

It is estimated that 8 million people around the world are infected with Chagas disease, but this may be a low estimate. Only about 0.5% of people who carry the disease are ever diagnosed and treated.

"The fight can never stop. It is required for it to continue and to sustain these activities over time, because there are many regions where the pressure of the vector to return exist," she added.//

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