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Written by Dr.Swati Rajagopal

The global burden of Leprosy or the Hansen's disease isn't going down. With about four million patients of leprosy worldwide and about 750,000 new cases being detected every year. However, 70 per cent Leprosy cases are from India. The numbers of leprosy case were decreasing in our country, so much so that we almost eradicated as a public health problem in 2005 with the efforts of the National Leprosy Eradication programme, and India but it is not the case anymore. India has the largest number of leprosy patients in the world. According to the reports by a Japanese philanthropist who works to eliminate leprosy in India has said that "60 per cent of leprosy patients in the world are in this country." World Leprosy Day 2019: Will It Spread By Touching? 6 Myths About Leprosy You Should Stop Believing In.

What could be the reason behind the startling number? Apart from the stigma attached and unreported cases it is also the superstition and the therapy method applied. Dr Swati Rajagopal, Consultant, Infectious Disease, Aster CMI Hospital Although India’s National Leprosy Eradication Program (NLEP) has done a considerable job to reduce the burden of leprosy in the country, India continues to suffer from the burden of this condition. Another point of concern is the exceeding number of children suffering from the condition in the country.

Talking about the treatment options, Dr Swati Rajagopal says, "Patients these days look at various treatment options for all ailments and leprosy too is no exception. However, it is strongly recommended that patients must look at allopathic treatment over alternative therapies as the available medications for leprosy have excellent cure rates." She stresses how early detection could be the key. She says, "If detected early, early treatment can enable patients to prevent disabilities. Lack of awareness and lack of adequate knowledge along with existing social stigma can be held responsible for patients looking at alternative treatment options. With the elimination of stigma and discrimination, patients would seek more appropriate treatment at the right time."

Dr further explains that the prominent cause behind under-reporting of leprosy cases in the country is a lesser number of voluntary reporting in the community. This is mainly because of the dearth of awareness and the persistent fear of stigma and discrimination against leprosy. In order to tackle the stigma related issues, the SPARSH Leprosy Awareness Campaign (SLAC) was flagged off on January 30, 2017. This program aims to promote awareness and resolve the issues of stigma and discrimination. What needs to be altered is the lack of awareness, inadequate diagnostic skills and commitment towards shunning off leprosy among general healthcare personnel that result in delayed diagnosis along with reduced patient self-reporting. While 137, 685 new cases were reported in the country in the year 2007, 2016 saw 135, 485 new leprosy cases and the figures clearly did not show much difference, which was alarming.

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