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Published On: Sun, Jul 28th, 2013

International Leprosy Summit: WHO warns against complacency, high burden leprosy countries make declaration

The International Leprosy Summit held in Bangkok, Thailand late last week showed how the fight against the disfiguring disease, leprosy, has shown great progress towards a leprosy free world; however, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned against complacency in this battle.

The face of this male patient exhibited some of the pathologic characteristic associated with a case of nodular lepromatous leprosy Image/CDC

The face of this male patient exhibited some of the pathologic characteristic associated with a case of nodular lepromatous leprosy
Image/CDC

The three-day summit (24-26 July), being organized by WHO and the Nippon Foundation, brought health ministers from eight countries and global experts to discuss the current leprosy situation and strategies for further reducing the disease burden and realizing a leprosy-free world.

The development of multidrug therapy in the 1980s effectively cured 16 million people in the past 20 years. But in many countries where the disease is endemic, new case-detection rates have been either static or showing increases. Globally, every 2 minutes, a new case of leprosy is detected and 7 out of every 10 cases is a child. Misinformation about leprosy is common and the disease continues to be shrouded in stigma with communities shunning patients even after they are cured, a Regional Office for South-East Asia (SEAR) press release stated.

“Our challenge is to sustain the quality of leprosy services and to ensure that all persons affected by leprosy, wherever they live, have an equal opportunity to be diagnosed early and treated by competent health workers,” says Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia. “While we’ve covered a lot of ground in reducing the disease burden in all endemic countries, there is no room for complacency. The final battle against leprosy is yet to be won.”

The number of highly endemic countries has gone down from 122 in 1985 to less than 20. However, despite significant progress, leprosy continues to be a health concern in these endemic pockets.

For example, in 2012 there were 232 850 new cases of leprosy reported, with 94% of these cases restricted to 15 endemic countries – many of them in South-East Asia and Africa. This represents an increase of 6224 cases since 2011.

Additionally, the number of people with leprosy who sought treatment only once they’d already developed visible deformities increased from 13079 in 2011 to 14409 in 2012.

The WHO also discussed the stigma and discrimination that happens to people with leprosy. “Many countries still have outdated laws from the 1800s which, for example, list leprosy as grounds for divorce or forbid persons with leprosy from running for office or obtaining a driver’s license – even after they have been treated,” the WHO said.

The Ministers of Health from the 17 high-burden leprosy countries in all WHO regions made a declaration to to reduce the prevalence of leprosy to less than 1 case per 10,000 population.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and also the eyes.

Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability.

Multidrug therapy (MDT) treatment has been made available by WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995, and provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.

Some of the countries that show pockets of high-endemicity include Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and the United Republic of Tanzania.

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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