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WHO urges nations to bridge gaps and accelerate efforts toward achieving zero leprosy infection, Health News, ET HealthWorld

New Delhi: The world health organization (WHO) has called on countries in the South-East Asia region and globally to urgently address gaps in leprosy services disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Urged the countries to accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, and zero leprosy stigma and discriminationstated it is the vision of the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030.

In 2021, 140, 000 new leprosy cases were reported, with 95 percent of new cases coming from the 23 global priority countries. Of these, six percent were diagnosed with visible deformities or grade-2 disabilities (G2D). Over six percent of new cases were children under the age of 15, with 368 being diagnosed with grade-2 disabilities.

However, over the past decade, strong progress was achieved globally in several key areas of leprosy prevention, treatment, and control, with new child case detection reduced by 27 per cent between 2010 and 2019, visible deformities at the time of diagnosis reduced by 23 per cent between 2014 and 2019 and new child case detection rate reduced to 7.6 per million children as opposed to 9.8 in 2014.

But this steady progress was disrupted by the onset of the COVID pandemic. Despite a 10 percent increase in new case reporting from 2020 to 2021, reported cases were 30 percent lower in 2021 than in 2019. Instead of a decrease in transmission, this fall in the reported number of cases was attributed to undetected cases due to COVID-19-related disruptions,

Speaking on the incidence of leprosy, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said, “Countries must continue to urgently restore leprosy services, with a focus on expanding single dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxisintensifying active case finding, and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy.”

Dr Singh stressed focusing attention on vulnerable populations, including women, children, immigrants, refugees, the elderly, the homeless, residents of deprived leprosy ‘colonies’ and those living in geographically inaccessible areas to end suffering and achieve zero leprosy.

“Leprosy is one hundred percent curable when detected early, yet today in addition to COVID-19 related challenges, stigma and discrimination, both institutionalized and informal, continue to impede prompt diagnosis and treatment, and facilitate onward spread. This has to change,” she added.

With at least 115 discriminatory laws reported to be in place in seven countries, WHO is calling on all countries to immediately and unequivocally revoke discriminatory laws and comply with and implement UN principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families .

With up to 50 percent of persons affected by leprosy facing psychiatric morbidities such as depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts, countries should also increase access for persons affected by leprosy and their families to mental health care, a key feature of the Global Leprosy Strategy. , along with scaling up diagnosis and treatment.

Advocating for the inclusion of leprosy patients, and being sensitive to the shortcomings of their ailment, Dr SIngh added, “Persons affected by leprosy must be engaged, empowered and involved in all aspects of decision-making, including in service design and delivery, and in social and economic activities. For this, community-based organizations and networks should be supported, nurtured and included in decision-making processes while expanding services that strengthen livelihoods.”

To motivate immediate intervention of the healthcare industries and the masses to provide maximum effort to accelerate the eradication of leprosy infection, WHO has announced the theme of World Leprosy Day as ‘Act Now. End Leprosy,’ reiterating their steadfast support to leprosy-affected countries in the South-East Asia Region and across the world to drive rapid, equitable and sustained progress towards achieving the vision of their Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030.

“Leprosy has afflicted humanity for millennia; however, we can be the generation that ends the transmission of leprosy, ends suffering, ensuring we leave no one behind,” concluded Dr Singh.

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