There are several contributing factors that have led to the emergence of infectious diseases in recent decades in Latin America, including population growth, environmentally unsustainable and unregulated practices, overall rising healthcare costs, and a lack of health-specific education.
Latin America has been no stranger to infectious diseases in the past, but most of the region's prominent emergencies in the past have been mosquito-borne diseases (MBD).
The AMCA (American Mosquito Control association) estimates that over 1 million people die worldwide from MBDs
Dengue and Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF)
DHS is one of the most common MBDs in the world, and it is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, also known as the yellow fever mosquito.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Dengue and DHS cases have grown and fallen throughout the region, but a few epidemic and pandemic situations were seen in the 1980s.
In 1981, Cuba witnessed over 400,000 cases of Dengue, over 10,000 cases of DHS, and 158 deaths in one year.
The government launched an aggressive vector-control program against the Ae Aeyptis and today the mosquito is virtually extinct on the island.
Cholera had been absent in Latin America until it reappeared in Peru in 1991. Since then more than 1 million cases have been seen in the region, with only Uruguay and a few Caribbean islands being spared. The transmission of the Vibrio Cholerae is mainly food and water related, with most cases being caused by unwashed fruits and vegetables and contaminated water.
Haiti has been the most affected country after it first announced a new outbreak in 2010 following the major earthquake. Since then, the Center for Disease control (CDC) estimates that over 660,000 people have been infected with Cholera and more than 8,500 people of died from it. The CDC calls the Cholera outbreak in Haiti the worst since the Indonesian cholera pandemic in the 1960s.
Chagas is a parasitic illness that is carried by a particular bug only found in Latin America, the Caribbean, and some parts of Southern United States. It is named so because it was discovered by Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas in 1909.
The Chagas bug is often found in mud, in wood, and in uncooked foods, and is mainly transmitted when the bug bites when it is accidentally eaten.
It is estimated that over 15 million people are infected with Chagas at any one point in Latin America, and that approximately 50,000 people die from it every year.
Experts explain that the symptoms can often take many weeks or months to show, which makes it very difficult to track, and many chronic symptoms may occur 10 to 20 years after initial infection.
After many years of controlled treatment and vector limitation, Malaria has made an aggressive comeback in Venezuela.
In the 2018 WHO Malaria report, it was estimated that Venezuela had over 400,000 new cases of Malaria, representing a tenfold increase from 2010 and more than 50% of all new cases in Latin America. The increase in Malaria has been primarily concentrated in the southern territories of Venezuela, near the borders with Colombia and Brazil.
The spread of Malaria has been associated with decreasing health infrastructure, depleting or non-existent medicine supplies, the lack of proper Residual Indoor Spraying (IRS) operations, and the emergence of illegal mining, deforestation, and agricultural activities.
By 2020, this number is expected to surpass 1 million people, although many private sector organizations claim that the actual number will be closer to 2.5 million.
As with all regions of the world, Latin America has seen a spike in population growth as well as an accelerated move of people to urban centers. According to Atlantic Council, from 1950 to 2014 the percentage of urban population doubled from 40% to 80%.
Population growth, as well as context-specific commercial demands, have led to environmentally unsustainable and unregulated practices such as illegal mining, illegal cultivations, and other rural exploitation activities.
Volatile seasonal cycles, including longer rainy seasons have led to periods of heavy rainfall and stagnant water accumulation, while a regional decline in healthcare investments, coupled with overall rising healthcare costs present additional difficulties.