What is Leprosy?
Leprosy is a mildly contagious bacterial infection that is caused by Mycobacterium Lepra. The disease can harm skin, peripheral nerves, eyes, bones, and upper respiratory tract.
Symptoms of Leprosy may not be seen for as long as 20 years and it can infect any age and sex. If not treated, Leprosy can severely affect the health of a person such as losing sensation, tissue degeneration and other serious health issues that can end up in disability or impairment.
History of Leprosy in India
Leprosy is the oldest and yet most misunderstood disease. There are a lot of stigma and misconceptions attached to this disease. People used to be fearful of it and consider it as a curse. Many times Leprosy patients were outcasted from the society and shunned. According to the researchers, Leprosy existed since at least 4000 BC.
India declared it’s independence from Leprosy in 2005 as a public health concern. Only after a decade of achieving the tag of elimination, WHO released a new report which states that 60 percent of the total global cases of Leprosy is found in India.
According to the latest reports by Central Leprosy Division released by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in 2017 about 1,35,485 new Leprosy cases have emerged. Hence, a new patient is diagnosed with Leprosy every four minutes in India.
Nikita Sarah, head of advocacy and communication at The Leprosy Mission said, “The elimination status proved as an obstacle in raising funds from supporting countries. They didn't think leprosy was a cause of concern in India anymore”.
According to Dr. Vivek Pai, director of the Bombay Leprosy Project says, “They only know how to identify skin lesions as markers of leprosy. Those are satellite cases where the disease has to consider spread. They must diagnose primary cases to stop leprosy from spreading in the community.”
In India, today the ASHA’s (Accredited Social Health Activists) have taken the responsibilities to detect the cases of Leprosy all over the nation. The main role of ASHA is to cover 1000 people in rural areas and up to 2500 people in urban areas.
The cure for Leprosy is available for free in India’s government hospitals and dispensaries. Multi-Drug therapy (MDT) can cure this disease at any stage. The first dose itself can kill 98 percent of the bacteria in the body.
According to the Health activists, India has a sufficient supply of MDT, however, the misconception and delayed diagnoses made it impossible or too late for the patients for the proper medical assistance.