India declared itself free of leprosy in 2005, but why hasn’t this become reality yet?
Ever since the official announcement about India achieving leprosy free status, the government has shifted focus to other critical illnesses plaguing the populace. The framework of processes to detect leprosy at early stage was dismantled to a large extent. For example, the door- to- door checks to identify leprosy afflicted individuals in families was discontinued years ago. The annual check among school children to identify signs of the disease at this early age also suffered the same fate. These checks ensured early detection of the disease, which is critical because complete cure is not just possible when this happens but this cure can be achieved with great efficacy over a much shorter term. Plus, the risk of the disease faced by the families exposed to the afflicted individual is considerably reduced when treatment is started early. We are no longer enjoying this ‘cycle of benefits’ today because there is no process to identify the disease carriers at the initial stage.
There are several other challenges that are impairing our ability to fight against leprosy too. Many of these are social and cultural. This means that public cooperation, understanding and awareness play a crucial role in not just eradicating the disease but also in including the afflicted individuals in mainstream society.
The fact is that leprosy, though a chronic infectious disease is completely curable yet only a very small proportion of the Indian population is actually aware of this reality. Further, only when left untreated does the disease cause the tell-tale skin lesions and deformities that leave a permanent mark on the stricken individual, causing them to become cast-aways from society.The need of the hour is to improve awareness about the disease, help people identify the signs and symptoms of the disease on their own and encourage them to seek medical advice and treatment rather than conceal the disease because they fear social backlash. India can become leprosy free- when the common man realizes that this is his problem as much as the nation’s and does his bit to help the country eliminate leprosy forever.
Leprosy- A Curable Disease; Not Stigma for Life
The physical deformities that result from leprosy make it virtually impossible for those suffering from this disease, in its advanced stage, to keep their affliction hidden. There are a number of diseases that visibly manifest themselves, yet none prompts frantic attempts to hide the disease as much as leprosy does. Why? The reason is simple- the social stigma attached to this affliction is such that the person affected by leprosy is even at risk of being ostracized by society. Sadly, the fear of being rejected by his family and fellow humans is the reason many leprosy patients fail to get treatment in time. They hesitate to discuss their symptoms with local health workers or physicians fearing that the news of their condition may spread in the neighbourhood and community.
Many falselybelieve that leprosy is completely incurable, that it transmits even via a single touch, and they believe that leprosy afflicted should be kept away The combination of half truths and completely baseless superstitions have served to make leprosy seem far more terrifying and dangerous that it actually is. The reality, supported by decades of medical research, are as follows:
Myth: Leprosy is the manifestation of divine wrath.
Truth:Leprosy is caused by theMycobacterium leprae bacteria. Other diseases that can traced back to bacillus include ear infections, food poisoning, urinary tract infection etc. We deal with the latter diseases simply and easily without any sense of panic, so why the terror and fear associated with another bacillus induced disease- leprosy?
Myth- Leprosy cannot be cured at any stage.
Truth– Leprosy CAN be cured completely; and it can be cured even before ANY visible, physical signs of the disease make an appearance. In India, we now have the Multi Drug Therapy treatment which is used world over to control and eliminate this disease. The treatment is provided for FREE, making it accessible for everyone irrespective of financial status.
Myth- You can ‘catch’ leprosy instantly if an affected person touches you.
Truth-Absolutely NOT! According to leprosy.org, the disease is transmitted by being close to the untreated affected person when they are coughing or sneezing. The bacteria are released into the air and if a person in the vicinity of not more than 5 meters breathes them in, they MAY be at risk. However, the fact is that only 1 in 100000 people develop any signs of the disease, and almost 95% of the population is immune to the bacteria. The risk of contracting leprosy from an affected person in high only for those with compromised immunity.
Myth: Leprosy patients who have just started treatment can still transmit the disease
Truth:As soon as the treatment (MDT) is started, most of the bacteria are destroyed within few days. Within one week of starting treatment there is absolutely no risk that the patient can transmit the disease to anyone else, even family members who spend all day with them in closed quarters.
Know the facts about the disease and you can understand why there is no need to view leprosy afflicted people with fear or to avoid them. Spread the knowledge and help get rid of the social stigma that is unfairly and unnecessarily attached to this disease.
Authored by Bharathi. V for GLRA, Chennai
Child leprosy- The role of awareness in improving prevention and cure
Since the ancient times, Indians have feared the dreaded disease commonly known as leprosy. Innumerable myths have been associated with this ailment, some based on facts and some created entirely out of fiction. Even today, there are many who believe that the people who are struck by this disease are the target of some divine wrath, a result of bad deeds. Superstitions like these do not only prevent the afflicted from seeking medical advice and help at the right time; they also keep the people in the community in a state of blissful ignorance about the real impact of the disease and the risk they face. In fact, this ignorance is one of the chief reasons why so many children get infected with leprosy at an early age and why the disease is left to progress unchecked until visible damage is done to the young patients.
Some startling facts about child leprosy in India
Some 1.27 lakh new cases of leprosy were reported across the country during the period 2013 to 2014 and over 12,000 of these were children. In an article published in The Indian Express, it was revealed that, of 3000 new leprosy patients detected in a dozen leprosy endemic locations in Gujarat, 226 were children. This situation is not just confined to this state. It is the unfortunate reality across the country that an unacceptable number of children are, even today, exposed and vulnerable to the disease, despite the government’s many efforts.
An indicator of recent transmission
While on one hand, India has officially announced that the country had eliminated leprosy as early as in 2005, the number of children being infected year after year is a clear contradiction of this claim. Studies indicate that if the disease is detected in children under the age of 15, it is reasonable to assume that active transmission of the disease causing germs is taking place. In effect, it could mean that new cases of leprosy are not being detected by government machinery in time. The disease carriers fails to get timely treatment, as a result. Children who are exposed to the disease carriers for prolonged period and whose bodies lack the in- built immunity levels to fight off the germs quickly fall prey to leprosy and transform into carriers themselves.
Rather than lay the entire blame on the government for its inability to weed out leprosy from the country, it is important to understand that the society also has to play a key role in helping stop this menace. Learning more about the disease, understanding how it spreads and taking the initiative to break the cycle of leprosy transmission from afflicted to vulnerable is a simple task for each and every one of us. We owe it to ourselves, our society and our future generations to invest attention in these tasks right away.
Written for GLRA by: Bharathi. V
World TB Day on March 24th
Like leprosy, tuberculosis or TB is another disease caused by Mycobacteria, that has plagued mankind for centuries. It is spread when the afflicted person coughs, allowing the bacterium to escape into air. People nearby breathe in the same air, exposing themselves to the disease.
TB is a serious concern worldwide but significant headway in controlling it became possible after the introduction of the antituberculosis antibiotics. However, disease continues to be a big concern in nations where public health resources are poor, where poverty prevents the populace from maintaining a healthy regular diet.
Statistics show that 12 lakh new TB cases are detected in India annually. The poorer sections of the society are more vulnerable to this disease. Also, children are under- diagnosed, so there may be several youngsters afflicted with TB, but not receiving timely treatment. This situation has to change and change NOW!
This World TB Day, let us pledge to do our bit to spread awareness about this disease among the less educated and underprivileged in our community.
World Leprosy Day 2016 can mark a turning point in our fight against leprosy, if we join hands
Leprosy enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the oldest diseases that mankind has known. While several devastating, potentially fatal diseases like yellow fever, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and small pox have been eradicated, we continue to battle against leprosy. This is particularly true in the Indian context. C.M. Agarwal, the Ex- Dy. Director General, Central Leprosy Division and head of the government’s National leprosy eradication program, was quoted in a April 2015 report, cautioning that the dreaded disease seemed to be in resurgence. He expressed the concern that, after the official declaration of India’s leprosy free status in 2005, complacency had set in, and this may be the reason why leprosy’s re-emergence took place under the government’s radar.
The government cannot be held responsible
However, it is highly unfair to hold the Indian government responsible or to attribute blame to the authorities in any way for this unfortunate turn of events. The truth is, that when leprosy statistics showed a dramatic dip and when the measures in place seemed to have brought the disease under control, the government shifted some of its focus to other diseases that were raging unchecked.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when the prevalence rate of a disease in a nation falls below one case in a population of 10,000, the government can declare that the disease is no longer a public health risk. India met this criteria in 2005, leading to the leprosy free country declaration. Even today, the national prevalence rate has not exceeded the WHO threshold, however, this is not true of all areas across the country.
The conclusion that we can draw from these facts is that we, as a nation, have been successful in gaining the upper hand over this dreaded disease. So there is no question ifwe can do it again, this time with even better success than ever before, thanks to the health advancements that have taken place in the decade that has passed since 2005.
This World Leprosy Day can be a new beginning
Every year, the last Sunday of January is celebrated as World Anti- Leprosy Dayand in the Indian context, it is particularly fitting as it falls on or close to the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Father of the Nation worked tirelessly to improve the life of India’s leprosy afflicted. It is a fitting tribute to the great man who always put the welfare of marginalised before his own life that we dedicate his death anniversary to this social cause.
Let this World Leprosy Day become a turning point in our fight against leprosy. Let this become the day you take your first step to become an ambassador for the government, for the many organizations- private and government, that are working tirelessly to eliminate this disease, and to help the leprosy afflicted enjoy their rightful place in society.
Leprosy is not just the ‘government’s responsibility. It is, in fact, a cross to bear for every Indian who wants his nation to progress and every citizen to contribute to this growth. It is in our hands to make sure that when India declares itself leprosy free in the coming years, there is no lingering doubt about whether or not the disease will make a re-appearance.
You can make a difference in the nation’s fight against leprosy, by educating yourself about this disease, learning how it spreads and understanding how it can be checked and treated at the right time. You can make a difference by spreading awareness about the disease and educating others, particularly, those who do not have the privilege of education. You can make a difference today, right now, by vowing to stop viewing the leprosy afflicted as second class citizens and by doing your bit to give them a life of dignity.
Authored by Bharathi. V for GLRA India, Chennai