Leprosy is one of the ancient diseases known to humankind. Despite being declared free from leprosy in the year 2005 by WHO, India has regained the title of being the leprosy capital of the world. From prevalence rate of 0.72 per 10,000 people at national level in 2005, India is now home to 60% of the new global leprosy cases reported since 2016. Leprosy, a disease of the nerves & the skin, caused by Mycobacterium leprae is a leading cause of permanent physical disability. However, timely diagnosis and treatment of cases before the nerve damage sets in, is the most effective way of preventing disability due to leprosy. Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) introduced by the WHO in 1980s has been found to be the most effective treatment of leprosy. It was the adoption of MDT by the Govt. of India which caused the disease to reduce from an epidemic to a manageable number eventually making India a leprosy free nation in 2005.
Hansen’s disease, another name for leprosy, is a disease that despite being curable leaves long-lasting physical deformities. But more disturbing than these physical deformities are the mental scars it leaves. The mutilating, disfiguring, contagious nature of the disease causes social ostracizing of the individuals affected by leprosy. Needless to say, the deformities of the limbs makes the individuals unemployable and financially dependent which further adds to the mental burden of such persons. Thus, for those suffering from the diseases it is not only medical rehabilitation that is of significance for preventing further physical damage but social reintegration to ensure sound mental health and to make them feel like a productive member of the community. It is worth pointing out that despite best efforts by Global and Indian agencies in prevention and treatment of leprosy cases, little attention has been paid towards social rehabilitation of leprosy affected persons post-successful treatment. This could be attributed to the epidemic presence of the disease which made it an urgent need to address prevention and treatment before anything else. Nevertheless, at GLRA-India, we ensure not only medical rehabilitation but the social reintegration of leprosy affected persons post-successful treatment.
For decades, the focus of leprosy eradication programmes, both nationally and internationally, have been limited to prevention and treatment of leprosy cases. While MDT has been pivotal in successful treatment of leprosy, the social rehabilitation of leprosy affected individuals has been an ignored frontier. We at GLRA-India, for long have believed that it is the social acceptance of the leprosy affected population that needs to be worked on, besides working on their medical rehabilitation. While the latter should occupy centre stage, the social aspect should not be compromised on to ensure that such individuals are not lost to the disease, emotionally, and despite a successful treatment do not become mentally/emotionally unfit to join community life or the regular workforce again.
Another area of intervention in leprosy work, which deserves an equal importance, is that of education and awareness. During the past many decades of work on leprosy, it has been found that certain groups of population are highly susceptible towards the disease. It is therefore important that such groups, in addition to all others, be made aware of the disease and its curable and preventive nature. In the same context, education of the community leaders is also highly desirable.
Another aspect of leprosy management is that the medication is known to have side-effects like discolouration of skin. This can drive the patients to abandon the treatment midway. Thus, health education to share such information also becomes important in successful treatment of the disease.
In the backdrop of these aspects of leprosy management, GLRA-India has always ensured not only identification and steering of the affected individual towards medical treatment but has made sure that the community and care-givers receive health education, and post-treatment the individuals are restored back into the community into a life of dignity and self-reliance. Additionally, the organization has provided economic support to the dependents of such persons to safeguard their future interest. This has been in the form of supporting their education or providing a means of livelihood.
process. The purpose of the surgery is to restore function and form of the limbs which suffer deformity as a result of the infection. It also prevents any further disability. As a part of the care and rehabilitation of leprosy affected persons, GLRA-India has facilitated/funded reconstructive surgery of over 50,000 leprosy treated individuals across India.