World Leprosy Day is annually observed around the world on the last Sunday of January. The day was initiated in 1954 by French philanthropist and writer, Raoul Follereau, as a way to raise global awareness of this deadly ancient disease and call attention to the fact that it can be prevented, treated and cured.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, rod-shaped bacillus.The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability. Multidrug therapy (MDT) treatment has been made available by WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995. It provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.
Elimination of leprosy as public health problem (with a prevalence less than 1 case per 10 000 persons) was achieved globally in the year 2000. More than 16 million leprosy patients have been treated with MDT over the past 20 years.
In order to reinvigorate efforts for leprosy control WHO has developed the “Global Leprosy Strategy 2016‒2020”, which is structured around the following 3 core pillars:
Pillar I: Strengthen government ownership, coordination and partnership
Key activities of Pillar I include:
- Ensuring political commitment and adequate resources for leprosy programmes.
- Contributing to universal health coverage with a special focus on children, women and underserved populations including migrants and displaced people.
- Promoting partnerships with state and non-state actors and promote intersectoral collaboration and partnerships at the international level and within countries.
- Facilitating and conducting basic and operational research in all aspects of leprosy and maximize the evidence base to inform policies, strategies and activities.
- Strengthening surveillance and health information systems for programme monitoring and evaluation (including geographical information systems).
Pillar II: Stop leprosy and its complications
Key activities of Pillar II include:
- Strengthening patient and community awareness of leprosy.
- Promoting early case detection through active case-finding (such as campaigns) in areas of higher endemicity and contact management.
- Ensuring prompt start of and adherence to treatment, including working towards improved treatment regimens.
- Improving prevention and management of disabilities.
- Strengthening surveillance for antimicrobial resistance including laboratory network.
- Promoting innovative approaches for training, referrals and sustaining expertise in leprosy, such as e-health.
- Promoting interventions for the prevention of infection and disease.
Pillar III: Stop discrimination and promote inclusion
Key activities of Pillar III include:
- Promoting societal inclusion by addressing all forms of discrimination and stigma.
- Empowering persons affected by leprosy and strengthening their capacity to participate actively in leprosy services.
- Involving communities in action for improvement of leprosy services.
- Promoting coalition-building among persons affected by leprosy and encouraging the integration of these coalitions and or their members with other community-based organizations.
- Promoting access to social and financial support services, for example to facilitate income generation, for persons affected by leprosy and their families.
- Supporting community-based rehabilitation for people with leprosy-related disabilities.
- Working towards abolishing discriminatory laws and promoting policies facilitating inclusion of persons affected by leprosy.
Targets of the strategy
- The targets of the new global strategy to be met by 2020 are:
- Zero disabilities among new paediatric patients.
- A grade-2 disability rate of less than 1 case per 1 million people.
- Zero countries with legislation allowing discrimination on basis of leprosy.