Iván Osorto
Photo courtesy of CODESO

Iván Osorto and his wife, Marlenis Espinal, received treatment for Chagas disease. They are pictured here with two of their six children, Maynor Yair Osorto, and Lesley Merary Osorto. None of the children has Chagas disease.

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Small-town Hondurans living with Chagas disease have two local MCC partners to credit for successfully appealing to the government for their treatment.

Iván Osorto is among 40 to 50 people who are getting treatment for the disease because of an unusual partnership coordinated by MCC.

Five years ago, Osorto was diagnosed with Chagas disease, a parasitic disease spread by triatomine insects, also known as kissing bugs. After the initial bite, the affected person typically experiences mild symptoms like headaches, swollen lymph nodes and a fever. Two to three months later, the parasitic disease becomes dormant in the body.

More than half of people affected experience no further symptoms, but 30 to 40 per cent may experience heart failure and other complications that can lead to death a decade or more after their initial infection.

“It was as if there was a fire in my body,” Osorto said. “My bones hurt; I was weak and lost a lot of weight.”

During the early 2000s, Honduras was widely affected by Chagas disease. The Ministry of Health worked with international non-governmental organizations for several years and claimed to have successfully eradicated the disease in Honduras in 2010.

"It was as if there was a fire in my body. My bones hurt; I was weak and lost a lot of weight."

— Iván Osorto, person with Chagas disease

Small resurgences popped up in subsequent years, but none were well publicized. Because it’s a highly politicized disease, exposing new instances of Chagas is discouraged by the ruling political party, according to Adolfo Nuñez, president of the Brethren in Christ (BIC) church in Honduras and director of CODESO, a BIC organization and MCC partner based in Orocuina, Honduras.

CODESO, a Spanish acronym for the Committee of Social Development, focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture practices to improve the food security of local families as well as providing emergency assistance during drought.

Osorto works with CODESO in the rural Los Hornos where he became ill from Chagas. Since his diagnosis in 2012, Osorto hadn’t received medical care because of its high cost. The church decided instead to take matters into its own hands, Nuñez said.

Members took up an offering to help Osorto and other families travel to the hospital to take blood tests and receive treatment. However, as the number of cases of infection rose to more than 60 people, Nuñez said, the hospital started refusing to test or treat any more people because the government was both reluctant to pay the costs and fearful of admitting there was a serious outbreak.

After CODESO was refused on three different occasions, Nuñez said they decided to change their strategy.

As MCC, we learned through this story more about the important  role we can play as a facilitator of exchanges, as a connector and as an organization ha intentionally strives to ... cause change."

- Matthieu Dobler, MCC Honduras representative

MCC Honduras put CODESO in touch with its partner ASJ, a Spanish acronym for the Association for a More Just Society, a justice and advocacy organization in Tegucigalpa. ASJ works toward transparency and fights impunity and corruption at the governmental policy level. The organizations decided to work together to help Chagas-affected families get treatment.

“The partnership with ASJ was crucial to put pressure on the local authorities,” Nuñez said. “It allowed us to file a formal complaint at the level of the secretary of the government, something that would have been more difficult for us to do alone,” Nuñez said.

Blanca Munguía, who coordinates ASJ’s program, Transformemos Honduras (Let us transform Honduras), said the partnership was important because one organization’s perspective complemented the other.

When MCC partners form networks, they are more powerful than a single voice. Together, these networks are able to amplify the message and speak out for change.

“On one hand CODESO knows the reality of the communities and on the other hand ASJ managed to present this given situation to the highest authorities who do not always receive such information or who sometimes receive wrong information assuming that everything is fine,” she said.

CODESO and ASJ are working with the government to have families examined. The government is offering vehicles to bring sick people to hospitals and is providing medication.

Nuñez said when MCC partners form networks, they are more powerful than a single voice. Together, these networks are able to amplify the message and speak out for change.

Through the support of MCC partnerships with both ASJ and CODESO, Osorto and his wife and many others are receiving treatment and are on the road to health again. Both partners plan to continue the important work because many people in the region still suffer from Chagas.

MCC Honduras representative Matthieu Dobler said, “As MCC, we learned through this story more about the important role we can play as a facilitator of exchanges, as a connector and as an organization that intentionally strives to … cause change."

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