Interview to Silvia Gold
Chagas is one of the great neglected diseases nowadays. However, her foundation, Mundo Sano, has placed it at the core of their work. How did you find your professional vocation in this foundation?
– Mundo Sano is a foundation born in 1993. It was created by my father. My parents, who were pharmacists, had a very humanistic vision which they combined with that initiative. And one day he said: «The foundation was born to return to society what it received from society». And as a matter of fact, I, who was educated as a biochemist, felt attracted by the project.
– Why was that?
– After some time working for the pharmaceutical company and after my father’s demise, I felt I had to take over his work. Chagas disease in Argentina was like a moral duty: while in college, you just studied the facts about it. But something had to be done in order to eradicate it, to treat those affected by it. My father had already launched, together with the industry and in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), a National Chagas Program, a pioneer work to control the bug. It was about taking a turn towards public health which the foundation considered to be much needed. The name, Mundo Sano (A Healthy World), is ambitious, but it sets the direction of our efforts.
– Chagas is your «flagship», but you haven’t left other diseases out, have you?
– We cannot cover all neglected tropical diseases, but we do work on four of them. In many of NTD’s mosquito control is a key issue; we have seen it in dengue fever, in chikungunya infection. We not only have programs for Argentina. We are present in Africa, too.
– You are a global entity. How do you organize your work?
– I have to say it is very different in Argentina from what we can do in Ethiopia. But there are many things in common that we attach value to. We conduct field work with a scientific perspective; we create evidence of situations and circumstances. Once we’ve got the necessary data and information collected, we articulate the actions to be taken. Our objective is to put the activities that need to be carried out on the table, and we have been distinguished with a recommendation from the WHO. This endorsement says a lot about the seriousness and contribution of our work in this dimension.
– All this sets you apart from other organizations. What do you do differently?
– We always work on the positive side of things. We do not admit to the stigma attached to these diseases, to Chagas. Instead, we sit around a table and discuss what we can do to improve the situation.
– An instance of this was when the only existing treatment for Chagas was discontinued. What did you do to solve this problem?
–That was an experience from which we learned quite a few lessons, and we got to put the medicine at zero cost over the first year in Argentina. Afterwards, the cost has been a minimum. And we made it happen because from my family’s pharmaceutical company we contributed the necessary resources. Now, we have obtained approval from the FDA and the European drugs agency. And we also have the endorsement of WHO.
– And now the entire world has access to it, isn’t it?
– Yes. We are surprised to see how a number of countries have a very good organization in this field. For instance, Spain stands out in Chagas care management at all levels.