The condition is completely curable if detected early. However, social stigma prevents most of the infected patients from getting access to treatment and are left homeless by their family members. Several fresh cases go undetected and there are issues related to leprosy integration. High incidence of leprosy among children and dearth of education and training for livelihoods are some of the areas of concern in our country. Leprosy has a devastating effect on the quality of life of the children and immensely disrupts their study and work. Although the Supreme Court has passed a couple of judgments in favour of patients with leprosy in 2018, several states in our country still deny employment benefits and privileges to these patients. World Leprosy Day 2019: Expert Says Why It’s Dangerous To ‘Cure’ Leprosy With Alternative Medicine.
Leprosy is a contagious disease affecting the skin, mucous membranes and nerves causing discolouration and lump on the skin and deformities in extreme cases. Also known as Hansen’s disease, this chronic granulomatous disease caused by Mycobacterium Leprae affects eyes and respiratory system as well. Discoloured patches on skin, skin dryness, nodules, thick and stiff skin, painless ulcers, swellings and lumps on feet soles, face and earlobes and loss of eyebrows and eyelashes are some of the common symptoms of leprosy that need to be watched out. Leprosy can also damage your nerves, thereby causing numbness of skin, weakness of muscle and paralysis, enlarged nerves and eye related issues.
A skin biopsy or nasal smears are the most common techniques for detecting the condition. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and recombinant DNA technology are advanced ways of diagnosing leprosy. WHO approved free multidrug therapy (MDT) and several new drugs have made treatment easier now. MDT, first recommended by a WHO Expert Committee in 1984, rapidly became the standard treatment of leprosy and has been supplied by WHO to all endemic countries since 1995. The treatment of leprosy with only one anti-leprosy drug (monotherapy) will result in the development of drug resistance to that drug.
A multi-stakeholder partnership is the need of the hour to tackle leprosy in the country. The government, NGOs and private agencies need to join hands and work together to eliminate the condition. Medical officers, nurses, paramedical workers and physiotherapists need to be efficiently trained up for providing quality diagnosis and treatment. Public education via pamphlet distribution, educating people to visit public healthcare centres regularly and more should be at the primary focus. A rehabilitation program for those who have been cured at an early stage should form an integral part of the elimination program. They must be offered with skill enhancing training sessions for easy access to employment opportunities. They must be aided with special bank loans for a fresh living.
India is among the 22 “global priority countries” that contribute 95% of world numbers of leprosy warranting a sustained effort to bring the numbers down. The current status of leprosy in the country is unclear and the condition is frequently misunderstood. It is imperative to come up with a holistic approach to deal with the infectious condition. Policy changes in favour of the patients and those promoting sustainable livelihood for them along with public awareness campaigns can go a long way in reducing the burden of leprosy in India. Following these footsteps, it is hopeful that India will be able to overcome the burden it is suffering from at present and we can look forward to complete elimination of the condition.
(This article has been contributed by Dr Swati Rajagopal, Consultant – Infectious Diseases & Travel Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore)