Leprosy should be treated as a rights issue, says WHO
According to Yohei Sasakawa the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) special ambassador for the elimination of leprosy and president of the Nippon Foundation leprosy (which is not transmitted and is curable) forces millions of patients to live as outcastes facing rejection and daily humiliation. Sasakawa emphasises the need to address leprosy at the rights level where the alienation of patients is treated as a human rights violation.
“We brought this issue before a human rights commission in Geneva last time,” he says. “Soon we are going to bring it up in the UN.”
India is among the countries with highest number of leprosy patients in the world. According to latest figures there are 292, 730 patients on record accounting for 2.74 leprosy patients per 10, 000 people.
On a recent visit to India, Sasakawa met union health minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss the WHO's target of eliminating leprosy by 2005.
As per WHO standards the ‘elimination level’ is less than one person per 10 000 people. Indian states with more than five cases per 10, 000 are Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.
In Uttar Pradesh, it is 4.12 per 10, 000 and in Bengal it is 2.7 per 10, 000.
Six states – Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh,Gujarat, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry -- have achieved ‘near elimination’ status with a prevalence figure of between one and two. Fifteen other states have achieved ‘elimination’ status.
Over all the leprosy rate has reduced from 57.6 per 10, 000 in 1981 to 3.2 per 10, 000 in 2003.
However, there are still 300 leprosy colonies throughout the country indicating a widespread prevalence of social ostracisation.
Ashok Kumar of the union health ministry says the government is committed to eliminating leprosy by the year 2005. “The disease is 100% curable through multi-drug treatment available at every primary health centre now. The treatment is free of cost,” he explains.
“As per our programme schoolchildren are being taught to recognise any suspicious rash on the skin of a family member. It is brought to the notice of the teacher who in turn informs the heath centre,” he adds.