World Leprosy Day: India accounts for over half of 2 lakh cases recorded worldwide; disease curable if diagnosed early

Like every year, India is observing World Leprosy Day on 30 January (Wednesday). This day was chosen to commemorate of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, who understood the seriousness of the disease. He was assassinated on this day in 1948.

Across the globe, World Leprosy Day, which focuses on creating awareness about leprosy-related disabilities, is observed on the last Sunday of January. While around 2 lakh cases continue to be reported every year across the world, India accounts for more than half of them.

On 25 January, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for South East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh called leprosy-related "discrimination, stigma and prejudice" the most powerful barriers in eradicating the disease.

World Leprosy Day: India accounts for over half of 2 lakh cases recorded worldwide; disease curable if diagnosed early

Representational image. Reuters

She said a significant number of cases are detected in the South East Asian region, Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. WHO's South East Asia region comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

WHO developed the "Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world", built around three goals: strengthen government ownership and partnerships,‎ stop leprosy and its complications, stop discrimination and promote inclusion.

In India, initiatives like the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) are working towards eradicating leprosy from the country. According to the NLEP's 2017-18 report, Bihar has the highest number of cases in India, at 14,338. However, the prevalence rate is the highest in Dadra and Nagar Haveli (4.85 per 10,000 people) and Chhattisgarh (2.25 per 10,000 people).

On 7 January, the Lok Sabha passed a bill seeking to remove leprosy as a ground for divorce.

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is a chronic granulomatous disease caused by the mycobacterium leprae bacteria. If diagnosed early, the disease is completely curable. If left untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.

It can be classified on the basis of clinical manifestations and skin smear results. In the classification based on skin smears, patients showing negative smears at all sites are grouped as paucibacillary leprosy, while those showing positive smears at any site are grouped as having multibacillary leprosy.

WHO has introduced multidrug therapy (MDT) to treat the disease, involving Rifampicin, Dapsone and Clofazimine. MDT is considered safe and effective and is freely available to all patients around the world.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 10:09:37 IST

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