India is leprosy free
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.