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Tropical diseases in Latin America - Statistics & Facts

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread at an exponential rate worldwide, Latin America concurrently struggles to control additional viral infections, which have threatened its population for several decades. Tropical diseases, as they are often called, are illnesses predominant in tropical and subtropical regions, where humidity and high temperatures are rampant. They are typically transmitted through mosquito bites, making these tiny pests the world’s deadliest creatures. While the number of cases for some tropical diseases, such as chikungunya and Zika, are drastically lower than they were a few years ago, other viral infections, like dengue, are again rising, claiming the lives of thousands in Latin America.

A Latin American syndemic?

Mixing the words ‘synergy’ with ‘epidemic,’ a syndemic occurs when multiple points of suffering, including health ailments as well as socio-economic inequities, unite to create a combined and worsened effect on the health of a population. Syndemic thinking helps understand how tropical diseases spread and even coinfect the discriminated, stigmatized, and poverty-stricken social groups living in Latin America’s slums. In the case of Malaria, for instance, over half of the region’s cases are located in Venezuela, a country which continues to endure the worst economic recession in Latin America and spends the least amount of its gross domestic product on health.

The syndemic quality of tropical diseases in Latin America can be best observed when looking at Brazil. The South American nation has by far the most infections of chikungunya, dengue, and Zika in the region, and is simultaneously considered one of Latin America’s most unequal countries based on wealth distribution. In addition, these tropical diseases are most common in the same, heavily populated areas of Brazil. The state of Bahia, for example, is among the top four states with the most probable dengue cases.

A vexing vaccine

A vaccine does exist for dengue. However, it is rather controversial because it can increase the risk of severe infection for some patients who have not been previously infected with tropical diseases. It is therefore important for people to know, and be able to prove, any prior dengue infections. As the value of the global dengue testing market continues to grow throughout the following years, better, and increased testing can assist patients in getting proper care against this tropical disease. However controversial the current vaccine for dengue may be, the value of the virus’ vaccine market in Latin America is worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars and is expected to grow over the following five years. This allows us to look forward to safer solutions to dengue and similar, deadly tropical diseases.


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