World Leprosy Day Bust the Myths, Learn the Facts

World Leprosy Day

World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January each year. Established in 1954 by French philanthropist Raoul Follereau, it aims to raise awareness about leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) and teach people about this ancient disease that is easily curable today. While rare in the United States, many people around the world continue to suffer from this curable disease due to lack of access to basic medical care and continued stigma surrounding the illness.

Leprosy was renamed Hansen’s disease after Norwegian scientist Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who in 1873 discovered the slow-growing bacterium now known as Mycobacterium leprae as the cause of the illness. It is difficult to catch, and it can take many years to develop symptoms of the disease following an infection. However, people who catch the disease can easily be cured with antibiotics.

Why awareness about leprosy is important

Despite the WHO announcing leprosy as an “eliminated” global health problem, over two lakh people are diagnosed with it every year, across the globe. Over half of these global leprosy cases are detected in India. According to WHO and India’s National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP), India accounted for 60 percent of new cases detected in 2017 — 1.26 lakh out of 2.10 lakh.

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that may lead to severe disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around your body. Also known as Hansen’s disease, it is a chronic bacterial infection that is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. It affects the skin and nervous system. In extreme cases, it might also lead to blindness, paralysis, disfigurement of the nose, and chronic ulcers on the bottom of the feet.

Leprosy treatment

Leprosy is curable with a combination of antibiotics known as Multi Drug Therapy (MDT). This treatment is available for free across the world. If leprosy is not treated on time, it can lead to serious complications. “Typically, 2 or 3 antibiotics are used at the same time. These are dapsone with rifampicin, and clofazimine is added for some types of the disease,” stated CDC.

“Antibiotics used during the treatment will kill the bacteria that cause leprosy. But while the treatment can cure the disease and prevent it from getting worse, it does not reverse nerve damage or physical disfiguration that may have occurred before the diagnosis. Thus, it is very important that the disease be diagnosed as early as possible, before any permanent nerve damage occurs,” it added.

Things to keep in mind

You should always complete your medicine course for leprosy. “Patients who quit halfway through the course develop resistance to the bacteria, which is why we have newer medications like minocycline and ofloxacin, which have helped us to overcome drug resistant leprosy also,” shares Dr Nahar.

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