India has the largest number of leprosy patients in the world

India’s massive leprosy case detection campaign has covered 320 million people. Nearly 3,00,000 health teams have screened 149 districts across 19 states


New Delhi –– A record 320 million Indians have been screened in a door-to-door leprosy detection campaign from 14 September to 4 October 2016, revealing thousands of “hidden” cases. The campaign, spearheaded by the National Leprosy Elimination Programme, covered 149 districts across 19 states and mobilized almost 300 000 health workers.

Every district reporting at least one case per 10 000 people over the past 3 years was targeted. The main objective was to detect all cases by visiting members of every household and following up with treatment of every member of the family diagnosed with the disease.

The campaign – from 14 September to 4 October 2016 – covered 149 districts in 19 states1 and involved volunteers from the Accredited Social Health Activists2 (ASHA) project. One of the highest numbers was detected in Bihar (4400 cases).

Although India achieved elimination of leprosy as a public health problem3 in 2005, it has the largest number of leprosy patients in the world and pockets of high endemicity report thousands of new cases every year. In 2015, a total of 127 326 new cases were detected accounting for 60% of the global total of new cases, compared with 125 785 new cases in 2014.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability. Multidrug therapy, made available by WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995, provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.

Control of leprosy has improved significantly as a result of national and subnational campaigns in most endemic countries. Integration of basic leprosy services into general health services has made diagnosis and treatment of the disease more accessible.

In 2016, WHO has launched a new global strategy – The Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020: accelerating towards a leprosy-free world – which aims to reinvigorate leprosy control efforts and avert disabilities, especially among children affected by the disease in endemic countries.

This strategy emphasizes the need to sustain expertise and increase the number of skilled leprosy staff, to improve the participation of affected persons in leprosy services and to reduce visible deformities – also called grade-2 disabilities – as well as stigmatization associated with the disease.

The strategy also calls for renewed political commitment and enhanced coordination between partners, and highlights the importance of research and improved data collection and analysis.
1Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi and Lakshadweep.
2An Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) is a village volunteer who serves as a link between the community and the formal health system.
3Elimination of leprosy as public health problem (that is, a prevalence of < 1 case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000. At national level, India achieved this status in 2005 although high numbers of new cases are detected in pockets of endemicity.

Courtesy: Ashok Moloo