The World Health Organization has urged countries in South East Asia and around the world to fill gaps in leprosy services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO issued a press release on Sunday urging countries to step up efforts to achieve zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy impairment, and zero leprosy stigma.
“The World Health Organization today called on countries in the South-East Asia Region and globally to urgently address gaps in leprosy services disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to accelerate efforts towards zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy disability, and zero leprosy stigma and discrimination -the vision of the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030,” WHO said in a press release.
In a news statement, Dr Poonam Kheterpal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, stated that leprosy is 100% curable if discovered early. She emphasised the importance of countries working together to restore leprosy services, with a focus on improving single-dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis, increasing active case discovery, and assuring quick diagnosis and treatment.
“Leprosy is 100 per cent 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,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said in the press release.
She further added, “Countries must continue to urgently restore leprosy services, with a focus on expanding single dose rifampicin chemoprophylaxis, intensifying active case finding, and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy.”
Dr. Poonam Kheterpal Singh has urged for a focus on vulnerable populations, such as women, children, the elderly, refugees, and those living in geographically inaccessible locations, in order to stop suffering and achieve zero leprosy.
According to the regional director, persons living with leprosy must be empowered and participate in decision-making, including service design and delivery. She stated as follows: “Act Immediately. Put an end to leprosy “is this year’s World Leprosy Day theme.
“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,” Dr Poonam Kheterpal Singh said.
“For this, community-based organizations and networks should be supported, nurtured and included in decision-making processes while expanding services that strengthen livelihoods,” she added.
She emphasised that WHO reiterates its “steadfast support” to leprosy-affected countries in the South-East Asia Region and around the world in order to achieve zero leprosy infection and disease, zero leprosy impairment, and zero leprosy stigma and discrimination by 2030.
According to the press release, at least 115 discriminatory laws are in effect in seven countries. The WHO has encouraged all nations to repeal discriminatory laws quickly and firmly, as well as to adopt United Nations principles and guidelines for the abolition of discrimination against individuals living with leprosy and their families.
According to the press release, 140,000 new leprosy cases would be reported in 2021, with the 23 global priority nations accounting for 95% of new cases. Six percent of those were identified with obvious abnormalities or grade-2 impairments (G2D). More than 6% of new cases included children under the age of 15. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of new cases increased by 10%.