With more than 50% leprosy cases reported from the country, India is the world’s leprosy capital. This is the finding of the Netherland Leprosy Relief Foundation (NLRF), a non-commercial, non-religious, and non-government public charitable trust that provides support to the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) of India for strengthening the integrated leprosy services.
The study report released by the NLRF states that during the reporting year (April 2014 – March 2015), 125,785 new cases of leprosy were detected by the NLEP out of which 5,794 cases presented visible disabilities i.e. these cases were already deformed before the treatment started.
As per the report, 1.27 lakh new cases of leprosy were reported in India during 2013-14. Of these 12,043 were new cases of leprosy during in children and 46,845 were new cases among women. The figure though is less than 1 person in 10,000 (the WHO standard for stating a disease to have been eliminated) it is still worrisome to have so many leprosy patients in this day and age.
Leprosy is a slow-progressing chronic disease caused by bacteria: Mycobacterium leprae. It usually affects skin and peripheral nerves and has a wide range of clinical manifestations from simple anaesthetic skin patches to widespread thick shiny and nodular skin and ear lobes.
Involvement, of certain peripheral nerves, results in the characteristic patterns of disabilities, due to which leprosy is a leading cause of permanent physical disabilities. The disease and its associated deformities add to social stigma and societal discrimination against patients and their families.
Leprosy is a crippling and visible disease. Fear, ignorance, poverty and superstitions all conspire to make leprosy patients outcasts in the society. Further, unlike other diseases, social stigma arising out of fear, shame, ignorance and superstitious beliefs create barriers in detection, treatment and cure of leprosy.
While there is no vaccine to prevent the disease, the good news is leprosy is completely curable with Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), which is available free of cost at all Primary Health Centres, dispensaries and hospitals.
“Unfortunately stigma attached to leprosy is a strong barrier in availing the therapeutic services and mainstreaming of affected persons. Sufferers are not only shunned by their communities, but also by their families,” says the report.
“It is thus imperative that along with community awareness and education, persons affected by leprosy and their families are provided comprehensive rehabilitation, removing their inhibitions or prohibitions, if any, so that their lost functions and lost self esteem can be regained, restoring their routine life, with improved economic and social status,” it adds.
The NLRF organized 12 health camps in six leprosy colonies of Delhi during the last year during which 1,053 persons were benefited. It also supported the elementary education needs of 1477 children and higher education needs of 14 young students of persons affected by the disease.
“During the year 2015, more emphasis was given to community managed sustainable inclusive
empowerment and on projects based on community based rehabilitation strategy. Enabling/empowering people disabled due to leprosy was extended further in the form of personality development trainings and support in development of Disabled Peoples Organizations (DPOs),” says NLRF Trustee Dr M A Arif.