While the world celebrates World Leprosy Day on the last Sunday of the month of January which was yesterday 29th of January, India observes it on January 30th every year, coinciding with the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. This day is celebrated to aware people of the disease and also to focus on individuals affected by it.
World Leprosy Day 2023 theme is "Act Now. End Leprosy."
Leprosy is an infectious disease that is caused by Mycobacterium leprae. It affects the hands, feet, and face and attacks the neurological system of individuals. Leprosy was renamed Hansen’s disease after Norwegian scientist Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who in 1873 discovered the slow-growing bacterium now known as Mycobacterium leprae as the cause of the illness. The symptoms take years to develop following an infection however early detection of the disease can be easily cured by antibiotics.
The prevalence of Hansen’s disease
- The number of new cases reported globally to the World Health Organization (WHO) External icon in 2019 was more than 200,000.
- Close to 15,000 children were diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in 2019, more than 40 a day.
- An estimated 2 to 3 million people are living with Hansen’s disease-related disabilities globally.
- In 2019, the countries with the highest number of new diagnoses were India, Brazil, and Indonesia.
- Over half of all new cases of Hansen’s disease are diagnosed in India, which remains home to a third of the world’s poor, a group disproportionately affected by the disease.
Hansen’s disease mainly affects people in developing nations. In these countries, overpopulation, limited resources, lack of access to healthcare, and expensive healthcare are some factors that distract the patients from taking treatment. The stigma and discrimination attached to Hansen’s disease stop people to seek help when symptoms appear and then this delay in diagnosis causes developmental disabilities.
Leprosy is hard to catch. The human immune system can easily fight off the bacteria that cause Hansen’s disease. You cannot get leprosy through casual contact such as shaking hands, sitting next to, or talking to someone who has the disease.
Leprosy is curable
The best part is that Hansen’s disease is curable with antibiotics. People with leprosy who are being treated with antibiotics can live a normal life among their family and friends and can continue to attend work or school. The person is not contagious after a few days of starting the treatment with antibiotics. However, the treatment must be completed so that the infection doesn’t come back which might take up to 2 years also.
Education and improving access to basic health services for all are keys to the successful elimination of stigma and disability associated with the illness.