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