Home Global Health News Urgently address gaps in leprosy services and accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease: WHO

Urgently address gaps in leprosy services and accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease: WHO

by Public Health Update

New Delhi | January 29, 2023
The World Health Organization today called on countries in the South-East Asia Region and globally to urgently address gaps in leprosy services disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, and zero leprosy stigma and discrimination -the vision of the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030. “Leprosy is 100 percent curable when detected early, yet today in addition to COVID-19 related challenges, stigma and discrimination- both institutionalized and informal, continue to impede prompt diagnosis and treatment and facilitate onward spread. This has to change,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia. 

In 2021, 140 000 new leprosy cases were reported, with 95 percent of new cases coming from the 23 global priority countries. Of these, 6% were diagnosed with visible deformities or grade-2 disabilities (G2D). Over 6% of new cases were children under the age of 15, with 368 being diagnosed with grade-2 disabilities. Despite a 10% increase in new case reporting from 2020 to 2021, reported cases were 30% lower in 2021 than in 2019. This is not due to a decrease in transmission, but cases remaining undetected due to COVID-19-related disruptions. “Countries must continue to urgently restore leprosy services, with a focus on expanding single dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis, intensifying active case finding, and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy,” said Dr Khetrapal Singh.  

The Regional Director stressed on focusing attention on vulnerable populations, including women, children, immigrants, refugees, the elderly, the homeless, residents of deprived leprosy ‘colonies’ and those living in geographically inaccessible areas to end suffering and achieve zero leprosy. With at least 115 discriminatory laws reported to be in place in seven countries, WHO is calling on all countries to immediately and unequivocally revoke discriminatory laws and comply with and implement UN principles and guidelines for elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. 

Over the past decade, strong progress was achieved in several key areas of leprosy prevention, treatment, and control globally, with new child case detection reduced by 27% between 2010 and 2019, visible deformities at time of diagnosis reduced by 23% between 2014 and 2019 and new child case detection rate reduced to 7.6 per million children as opposed to 9.8 in 2014. With up to 50% of persons affected by leprosy facing psychiatric morbidities such as depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts, countries should also increase access for persons affected by leprosy and their families to mental health care, a key feature of the Global Leprosy Strategy, along with scaling up diagnosis and treatment.“Persons affected by leprosy must be engaged, empowered and involved in all aspects of decision-making, including in service design and delivery, and in social and economic activities. For this, community-based organizations and networks should be supported, nurtured and included in decision-making processes while expanding services that strengthen livelihoods,” said the Regional Director.

 “Act Now. End Leprosy.” is this year’s theme for World Leprosy Day. WHO reiterates its steadfast support to leprosy-affected countries in the South-East Asia Region and across the world to drive rapid, equitable and sustained progress towards our targets and goals, achieving zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, and zero leprosy stigma and discrimination by 2030. 

“Leprosy has afflicted humanity for millennia; however, we can be the generation that ends the transmission of leprosy, end suffering, ensuring we leave no one behind, “said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

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