World Leprosy Day demands end to discrimination, stigma and prejudice

Every year, we observe World Leprosy Day on the last Sunday in January, which this year is January 27, when health experts will call for an end to discrimination, stigma and prejudice.
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is caused by Mycobacterium leprae. Transmission is via droplets from the nose and mouth of untreated patients with severe symptoms. However, leprosy is not highly infectious.

This woman is making a living despite her disease. --Photos Dr Ammala, National Dermatology Centre

In those who are infected, if left undiagnosed and untreated, the disease can damage nerves and lead to muscle weakness and atrophy, and lifelong disabilities in the eyes, hands and feet. Then the disabilities may require orthopaedic amputation.
Since the introduction of effective chemotherapy in the 1980s, over 16 million patients have received multidrug therapy. This has significantly reduced the number of new cases and disabilities.
Globally, many countries have achieved elimination of leprosy with prevalence of less than one case per 10,000 people. Laos has maintained a low prevalence rate through improved capacity to detect new cases as reported by the National Leprosy Control Programme under the National Dermatology Centre, Ministry of Health.
However, although new cases with grade-2 disabilities fell from 20 in 2015 to 18 in 2016, new grade-2 disabilities remained at 18 in 2017 and 2018. This has raised concerns that the proportion of cases in children rose from 7 percent (six children) in 2017 to 12.6 percent (nine children) in 2018.
The number of Multi Bacillary cases remained the same at 63 in 2017 and 2018, with a significant proportion (12.6 percent) being children (nine patients), indicating that active transmission is still ongoing at the community level.
This implies that there is a need to reach out to under-served, marginalised and vulnerable communities that have limited access to health services. This means focusing on the integration of leprosy detection with proper treatment and care services to prevent disabilities.
The leprosy control network in Laos has expanded from central to provincial, district and health centre levels nationwide.
The goal for World Leprosy Day is to raise awareness of a disease that many people believe has been eliminated.
The Ministry of Health and partners such as the World Health Organisation, Ordre de Malte France and the Asian Community Trust and other bodies need to continue mobilising resources and support using innovative technology to ensure improved services in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of people with leprosy.
While improving leprosy control services and integrating these services into the health system, stigma reduction and social inclusiveness promotion could further raise public awareness. This would encourage health-seeking behaviour and reinforce better and earlier diagnosis of leprosy to prevent disabilities.
The Ministry of Health has committed to achieving Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals by 2025, targeting the ideal “no one is left behind”.
Leprosy often impacts the poor, marginalised and most disadvantaged groups. The inclusion and integration of leprosy control services into basic health service packages is necessary because it is everyone’s basic right to have access to quality prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care services.
Living with leprosy is hard, but social exclusion, discrimination and stigma make it worse for those who are afflicted with the disease.
With proper education, awareness and understanding, society can build an environment where people with leprosy can feel accepted. Let us remind ourselves on World Leprosy Day that these people who encounter daily hardships need our acceptance and the right to treatment and care.
Visit #WorldLeprosyDay2019 on social media to post your support for people living with leprosy and to show your support for social inclusion and the concept that no one is left behind.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update January 25, 2019)


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