New Delhi: The World Health Organization has urged countries in the South East Asia region and globally to address gaps in leprosy services disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a press release on Sunday, the WHO called on nations to accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability and zero leprosy stigma.
"The World Health Organization today called on countries in the South-East Asia Region and globally to urgently address gaps in leprosy services disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, and zero leprosy stigma and discrimination -the vision of the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030," WHO said in a press release.
Dr Poonam Kheterpal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, in the press release said that leprosy is 100 per cent curable if it is detected early. She stressed that countries must work to restore leprosy services, with a focus on enhancing single-dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis, intensifying active case finding and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment.
"Leprosy is 100 per cent curable when detected early, yet today in addition to COVID-19 related challenges, stigma and discrimination- both institutionalized and informal, continue to impede prompt diagnosis and treatment and facilitate onward spread. This has to change," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said in the press release.
She further added, "Countries must continue to urgently restore leprosy services, with a focus on expanding single dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis, intensifying active case finding, and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy."
In order to end suffering and achieve zero leprosy, Dr Poonam Kheterpal Singh called for focusing on vulnerable people, including women, children, the elderly and refugees and those living in areas which are geographically inaccessible.
The regional director said that people affected by leprosy must be empowered and involved in decision-making, including in service design and delivery. She stated that "Act Now. End Leprosy" is this year's theme for World Leprosy Day.
"Persons affected by leprosy must be engaged, empowered and involved in all aspects of decision-making, including in service design and delivery, and in social and economic activities," Dr Poonam Kheterpal Singh said. "For this, community-based organizations and networks should be supported, nurtured and included in decision-making processes while expanding services that strengthen livelihoods," she added.
She stressed that WHO reiterates its "steadfast support" to leprosy-affected countries in the South-East Asia Region and around the world to drive rapid, equitable and sustained progress towards targets and achieving zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, zero leprosy stigma and discrimination by 2030. At least 115 discriminatory laws have been reported to be in place in seven nations, according to the press release. The WHO has urged all countries to immediately and unequivocally revoke discriminatory laws and implement United Nations principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families.
According to the press release, 140,000 new leprosy cases have been reported in 2021, with 95 per cent of new cases reported in the 23 global priority countries. Of these, 6 per cent were diagnosed with visible deformities or grade-2 disabilities (G2D). More than 6 per cent of new cases were children under the age of 15. A 10 per cent rise in new cases was witnessed from 2020 to 2021. —ANI