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Improving health in Guatemala: Maria Carlota Monroy (Guatemala)

December 10, 2010
Simple measures prevent the spread of disease   In November 2008, the Intergovernmental Commission of the Central American Initiative for Chagas Disease Control confirmed that Guatemala had become the first country in Central America to be certified for interruption of Chagas disease transmission by Rhodnius prolixus, one of the disease’s two most important vectors. The means: spraying homes with insecticides and replastering walls and floors to bar the insect from houses. An estimated 10 million people in the Americas are infected with Chagas, which is often fatal.

The second vector, the triatomine bug, is a more formidable foe, one that can’t be eradicated by spraying. Researchers funded by IDRC have now found the means to defeat it.

The research is led by medical entomologist Maria Carlota Monroy, founder and senior researcher at the laboratory of Applied Entomology and Parasitology at San Carlos University in Guatemala. Her team includes researchers, engineers, architects, the national Ministry of Health, and the national Vector Control Program. Equally important, the communities themselves participate. 

IDRC-supported researchers studying the control of Chagas disease work closely with local communities.
MARIA CARLOTA MONROY   We are looking for new ways of attacking a native vector of Chagas (Triatoma dimidiata) without using insecticides, by removing the factors that encourage these insects to live in houses. We help them construct chicken coops, small pig houses. With the two veterinarians, we tell them how to keep the animals in good health. While preventing Chagas disease, families also improve their quality of life.   This is something original. The tendency in developing countries is to copy what other countries are doing — for example, spraying — and many times these approaches don’t apply to their reality. We need to do research to address the problems that we have.   A concerted approach   We work with the Ministry of Health and the local representatives. And we work with field workers, the people who apply the rules. Guatemala has 22 different departments and 23 different languages, so it’s not easy. Our research team also includes members of local communities.   Guatemala is now seen as something of a leader in Central America in this area. Three months ago, I was invited by the Ministry of Health in Honduras to train 30 of their staff. And I will be in Mexico in the fall teaching our methods.