When I visited New Delhi in late January for the launch of the 14th Global Appeal, I was surprised by the number of times reporters asked whether leprosy is on the rise in India. The question seemed to have been triggered by leprosy case detection campaigns in the past two years that have identified many new cases of the disease. The perception among some members of the media is that leprosy is making a comeback in India.
But here is another explanation. The stepped- up activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme are producing results. Leprosy case detection campaigns, focused leprosy campaigns, and the Sparsh leprosy awareness campaign are detecting new cases earlier. It is not that leprosy has increased, but that surveillance has improved. The program is working.
What this means for the life of each person concerned cannot be overstated. With early detection, their chance of a complete recovery without residual disability goes up. For communities, the sooner persons are diagnosed and started on multidrug therapy, the sooner they stop being infectious.
With fewer cases of disability associated with leprosy, the disease becomes less frightening.
This reinforces the message that leprosy is just another disease that can be treated and cured without residual consequences. This contributes to reducing stigma and discrimination.
“Leprosy on the increase” may be a headline that catches the eye of a newspaper reader. The real story, however, is that India is doing a better job of detecting cases today than in the 10 years since it was eliminated as a public health problem in 2005, when priorities shifted.
Yes, there is still a lot of hard work before we achieve a leprosy-free India, and yes, we need to be vigilant about leprosy reaction and other aspects of case management. But as I see the actions India is taking today, “leprosy making a comeback in India” is not what the media should be focusing on. Instead, we are seeing a temporary increase in case numbers because of the increased activities of the program, and that’s a healthy sign.
— Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Newsletter No.94
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Spotlight: Case-finding in the Philippines
Focus: A committee to help immigrants with leprosy
Feature: A former hospital colony gets a make-over
Ambassador’s Journal: Bangladesh, Myanmar
News: People’s assemblies
From the Editor: CHANGING LIVES, CHANGING THE WORLD