30th January, the Martyrdom Day of the great person Mahatma Gandhi, is celebrated every year as the Anti Leprosy Day all over the India in order to re-memorize his selfless efforts and care for the people affected by the infectious disease leprosy. It is celebrated to understand the real need to fight against the leprosy. Gandhi once said, “Eliminating leprosy is the only work I have not been able to complete in my lifetime.”
Many of us might have forgotten the word ‘Leprosy’, thinking that the disease has been eradicated long back but unfortunately the fact is that the suffering still remains. Leprosy is curable still we have millions suffering from this disease. If detected early, disabilities can be prevented. India has the largest prevalence of leprosy in the world, followed by Brazil, Nigeria, Myanmar and Indonesia. Everyday 52 children around the world are diagnosed with leprosy. Maximum would attain permanent disability due to lack of sufficient knowledge and medical exposure.
According to the World Health Organisation, at least six out of every 10 people infected with leprosy hail from south-east Asia. Leprosy is a disease which affects the skin and nerves and is caused by the bacteria mycobacterium leprae. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), access to information, diagnostic procedures, and treatment has helped decrease the prevalence of leprosy worldwide. Since 1985, 113 countries out of the 122 countries where leprosy was a public health concern have eliminated the disease. Since 2001, the number of new leprosy cases has decreased by 20% each year. Leprosy is not considered a highly contagious illness. About 95% of people who are exposed to the bacteria that causes leprosy do not develop the disease. Contrary to popular belief that leprosy causes no concern now, it is still very closely monitored by the world health bodies, as is evidenced by this day set apart. Will WHO focus now on improving access and coverage of treatment in inaccessible areas?
A research study conducted in countries where a leprosy cure is well known indicates that the leprosy stigma still exists. People look at this disease as a curse and the stigma becomes even stronger in countries where people have not been educated about the disease. The attitude of our society towards leprosy patients remains unchanged.
One would find that the majority of the patients are those who live in slums and those who move about barefooted. The number of leprosy patients as detected by the Health Ministry does not seem to be correct because only one out of every five patients can be detected and counted as opined by the WHO experts. It is found that the leprosy-afflicted are physically uprooted and suffer psychological impairment much more than other categories of disabled such as visually handicapped, deaf etc. It is true that leprosy patients are penalised and segregated by our society. There are cases where they are driven out of their own homes and are forced to beg for survival. Leprosy if detected early can be completely cured. It is just like other disease and is wrong to penalise a patient for no fault of his.
Without treatment injuries may become infected and cause further disability and many people are shunned from their communities due to the stigma surrounding leprosy, unable to find work and are pushed further into poverty. No doubt, the voluntary agencies engaged in leprosy eradication has created an awareness among the people that leprosy is not a curse and this it is just another disease. However the Government should come out with comprehensive strategy at various levels of medical along with a massive health education campaign for early detection and proper rehabilitation. It is necessary to have treatment-cum-rehabilitation centers where the capacity of the patient to earn his living is restored and re-established. World Leprosy Day creates awareness that leprosy is in fact curable. This day is meant to help people living with the disease to understand that it is in fact a curable disease and to know that other people care about them. Not only this but we all can also help in eradicating the leprosy by spreading the message that it is the least infectious disease and a person should contact if a pale or red patch on the skin is noticed. We all should remember that Leprosy is curable; early treatment ensures deformity less cure.