WHO launches global strategy to fight leprosy

The launch is important for India, one of three countries that together account for more than 80% of global cases of the disease


A file photo of a cured leprosy patient showing his disfigured hands in a New Delhi leprosy colony. 127,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in India during 2013-14. Photo: AFP
A file photo of a cured leprosy patient showing his disfigured hands in a New Delhi leprosy colony. 127,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in India during 2013-14. Photo: AFP

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday launched a global strategy aiming at freeing the world of leprosy by 2020. It aims to reduce to zero the number of children diagnosed with leprosy and related physical deformities. The launch is important for India, one of three countries that together account for more than 80% of global cases of the disease.

The strategy suggests governments detect cases early, even before the visible disabilities occur, with a special focus on children as a way to reduce disabilities and reduce transmission.

Leprosy was eliminated globally in the year 2000 with the disease prevalence rate dropping to below 1 per 10,000 population. Though all countries have achieved this rate at the national level, a world without any case of leprosy is still a far cry. In 2014 alone, 213,899 new cases were reported—India, Brazil and Indonesia accounted for 81% of those cases.

According to The Leprosy Mission Trust – India, a non-profit, 127,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in India during 2013-14, out of which 12,043 were children. Chhattisgarh and Dadra and Nagar Haveli have still not achieved elimination.

“A strategy can only be as good as its implementation,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, said at the launch of the global strategy.

Key interventions include targeting detection among higher risk groups through campaigns in highly endemic areas or communities and improving health care coverage for marginalised population.

“Screening all close contacts of leprosy affected persons, promoting a shorter and uniform treatment regime, and incorporating specific interventions against stigma and discrimination are the other strategic interventions that endemic countries need to include in their national plans to meet the new targets,” read a statement by the WHO.