World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January, each year and this year, it falls on 28 January. The theme for 2018 is ‘Zero Disabilities in Girls and Boys’. By working together and through early case detection, diagnosis and treatment and social inclusion the world can closer to eliminating leprosy. (PAHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) says national programmes should boost active case-finding, strengthen surveillance, improve contact-tracing and focus more on early detection of leprosy cases among children to ensure achievement of the global target of zero child infection by 2020.
The call comes as the world observes World Leprosy Day (annually, on the last Sunday of January) to mark the suffering of people affected by this preventable and curable disease that has eluded defeat. Leprosy was globally declared to have been “eliminated as a public health problem” 18 years ago.
Elimination of leprosy as public health problem (defined as a registered prevalence of less than 1 case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000. However, pockets of endemicity have continued in many countries. India and Brazil report the highest number of cases annually.
Leprosy is caused by infection with the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae, which multiplies very slowly in the human body. The bacterium has a long incubation period (on average five years or longer). The disease affects nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain and injury.
Data published by WHO in 2017 show that although the overall number of cases is slowly declining, that of new cases does not align with global efforts and resources deployed to interrupt transmission.
Reports from 145 countries of WHO’s six regions show that of the total of 216 108 newly diagnosed cases of leprosy during 2016, 18 472 involved children, representing almost 9% of all new cases reported annually. Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability. (WHO)
Based on 173 358 cases at the end of 2016, prevalence rate corresponds to 0.29/10,000.
In 2016 WHO launched its “Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world” to reinvigorate efforts for leprosy control. The strategy focuses on avoiding disabilities, especially among children.
The Global Leprosy Strategy 2016‒2020 is structured around following 3 core pillars:
Pillar I: Strengthen government ownership, coordination and partnership
- 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 promoting intersectoral collaboration and partnerships at the international and national levels.
- Facilitating and conducting basic and operational research in all aspects of leprosy and maximizing 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
- 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
- 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.