Efforts to tackle leprosy have been slowing of late. It may be that many people who embarked on the journey to achieve a leprosy-free world began to ease up once the disease was eliminated as a public health problem at the national level. As I have said in the past, however, on a journey of 100 miles the 99th mile is only the halfway point. Having one more mile to go is the same as having 50 more miles.
In the fight against leprosy, eliminating the disease as a public health problem is just a milestone on the road to its eventual eradication. We must do whatever we can to get as close as possible to our ultimate goal of reducing the number of new cases to zero.
In recent years, the number of new cases reported annually has hovered around the 200,000 mark. Allied to the fact that our anti-leprosy activities appear to be stagnating, this is cause for concern.
Dr. C.M. Agrawal, the Deputy Director General (Leprosy) at India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has mobilized community health workers to search actively for new patients in 209 high-endemic districts as the first step in a strategy for early detection and complete treatment of new leprosy cases. As a result – and this is only to be expected – the number of new cases is showing a tendency to increase.
This is an encouraging sign, Dr. Agrawal says. The most important thing is to reach out to every corner, grasp the actual situation and manage the cases detected. One should not be afraid of reporting an increased number of cases due to active search.
I am a strong supporter of this stance. Once again we need to do our utmost to detect and treat new cases, be they in remote rural areas or in sprawling urban slums. Is this not our duty? Our fight against leprosy is only at the halfway point.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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