India tops the list of countries fighting the stigma of leprosy, even after 15 years of the disease being effectively eradicated globally.
Of around 214,000 new leprosy cases reported every year globally , India accounts for around 60% or more than half of the new incidences, latest assessments show. In 2000, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared that leprosy was eliminated globally with the disease prevalence rate dropping to below 1per 10,000 population.
However, latest WHO data shows, 94% of the new cases are reported from 13 countries and the disease continues to afflict the vulnerable, causing life-long disabilities in many patients.
India, Brazil and Indonesia together account for 81% of the newly diagnosed and reported cases globally .This is despite all countries in the world achieving the WHO-prescribed rate qualifying eradication.
Experts fear numbers are often suppressed or underreported by states to remain in the eliminated leprosy category. Last year, some reports suggested that up to half of India’s leprosy cases are not being reported.
Failing to eradicate the disease in the last 15 years, the WHO has now come up with a new global strategy calling for stronger commitments and accelerated efforts by governments to stop disease transmission and end associated discrimination and stigma.India has been reporting around 130,000 new cases a year.
The new strategy, with a 2020 deadline, is to reduce the number of children diagnosed with leprosy and related physical deformities to zero; reduce the rate of newly-diagnosed leprosy patients with visible deformities to less than one per million; and ensure that all legislation that allows for discrimination on the basis of leprosy is overturned.
According to the WHO, the key interventions needed to achieve the targets include detecting cases early before visible disabilities occur, with a special focus on children as a way to reduce disabilities and reduce transmission; targeting detection among higher risk groups through campaigns in highly endemic areas or communities; and improving healthcare coverage and access for marginalised population.