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Leprosy is a grossly misunderstood disease over the generations. A potentially crippling disease, it is also a visible ailment. Unlike other diseases, social stigma arising out of fear, ignorance and superstitious beliefs create barriers in detection, treatment and cure of leprosy.
Leprosy is a chronic, mildly infectious disease caused by a germ called Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae) which was discovered by Dr. A. Hansen, a Norwegian scientist way back in 1873. It is not caused by the curse of gods, as some people believe. It is a disease of the nerves affecting the skin and certain other organs. It is the least infectious among communicable diseases.
Leprosy is completely curable now with modern drugs. Leprosy is transmitted from one person to another by a variety of means. Modern science believes transmission of the disease through the air as a major channel. Skin-to-skin contact for long and sustained period may be necessary to transmit the disease.
Patients under regular and adequate treatment cannot transmit the disease to other people. Leprosy is not hereditary, as children born of leprosy patients do not have leprosy at the time of birth. A pale patch on the skin with loss of sensation can be leprosy (non-itching and non-painful or hypopigmented patches). Oily, shiny copper-coloured skin can also be a sign of leprosy. However, all patches on the skin are not leprosy
Leprosy is of two kinds:
Paucibacillary (PB) and Multibacillary (MB). In PB cases, the bacilli are few in number and therefore do not pose a public health hazard. In MB cases, the bacilli are present in enormous numbers, and therefore, they can transmit leprosy to susceptible individuals if the MB patients are not under treatment.
The public are advised to understand this carefully. About 20% of the patients are children. Child patients can be cured comparatively easily and in a short period. About 95% of the patients live within the society taking necessary treatment.
Leprosy is not only a medical problem but a social problem as well. Leprosy is a crippling and visible disease. For centuries, leprosy did not have a cure. Fear, ignorance, poverty and superstitious beliefs had all conspired to make leprosy patients outcasts in the society. Multi-drug therapy (MDT) has offered definite and complete cure for leprosy.
Size of the problem
Of the estimated 12 million leprosy cases in the world in 1981, India had 4 million i.e one third. The prevalence rate in India at that time was 57.6 patients per 10,000 population and there were several hyperendemic districts with over 100/10,000 prevalence rate. Through concerted action by the Central and State Governments as well as Voluntary Associations, the number of patients in India has come down about less than 1 lakh by the end of March 2006 with a prevalence rate of less than 1 patient per 10,000 populations. India has achieved the goal of leprosy elimination by 2006. The fight is not over.
There are leprosy-cured persons with deformities. Prevention and correction of deformities and rehabilitation of such persons require a massive effort. Citizen's participation and continued support are absolutely necessary to achieve success in these areas.
Important points to remember