India has recorded more than 127,000 fresh cases of leprosy in 2011-12, its federal parliament was told yesterday. Junior Health Minister Sudip Bandyopadhyay said the state of Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 24,627 cases, followed by Maharashtra with 17,892 cases and Bihar with 17,801. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India accounted for 54 percent of the total number of leprosy cases detected worldwide in 2010, which came to 228,474.
However, a senior ministry official described last year’s rise as “slight.” A.K. Puri of the ministry’s leprosy section said the national leprosy eradication program is supplying free medicines to patients, training doctors to diagnose cases and providing facilities for reconstructive surgery. The government also grants 5,000 rupees to each patient for medical rehabilitation and is conducting awareness programs to change public attitudes toward patients.
Sister Ambrose Kadavelil, who works with leprosy patients in Bihar, said they are ostracized by people who are afraid of contracting the disease. “People bring the patients and dump them in leprosy colonies,” she said, adding that this dismissive attitude was a major cause of the lepers’ frequently pathetic condition. “It becomes very difficult for these people to join mainstream [society] even once they are cured. Some start begging as their source of livelihood,” she said. “There is also a need to educate the leprosy patients themselves,” she said, adding that generally they are illiterate, malnourished, unhygienic and ignorant. “They need to be motivated to take the medicines regularly, as some of them tend to stop the course and the disease reappears.”
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a progressive ailment that can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes if left untreated. While transmitted by air through droplets from the nose and mouth, the disease is one of the least infectious diseases in the world, according to a fact sheet from the WHO. The fact sheet further notes that the principle form of treatment is Multi-Drug Therapy, or MDT, which the WHO has been providing worldwide since 1995. “Over the past 20 years, more than 14 million leprosy patients have been cured, [and] about 4 million since 2000,” the fact sheet states.