The effort to eliminate leprosy is far from over as more than 2,00,000 new cases are reported each year, the United Nations’ health organisation WHO warned on Wednesday.
Although successful treatment is now available, there were 2,32,850 new cases reported in 2012, mostly in Asia and Africa, an increase of 6,224 cases over the previous year.
“We cannot lower our guard,” said Samlee Plianbangchang, regional director of the World Health Organization in South-East Asia said.
“We could eliminate small pox. Why not leprosy?” The introduction of multi-drug therapy in the early 1980s has effectively cured 16 million people over the past 20 years, bringing the national prevalence rate down to less than per 10,000 people worldwide by 2005, WHO officials said at the start of a three-day meeting on the disease in Bangkok.
But Mr. Samlee said there was a disturbing increase in the number of new cases showing visible disabilities, and in the number of women testing positive for the disease.
The number of highly endemic countries has decreased from 122 in 1985 to less than 20, but the new cases are getting harder to reach.
Public health authorities need to target those populations, such as people living in urban slums, border areas and ethnic minority areas, Mr. Samlee said.
He also noted that prevalence rates were likely higher than average in remote areas of countries such as India, Indonesia and Myanmar.
“Globally it might be down, but in India it appears to be more than one per 10,000, especially in the remote areas of the country that are hard to reach,” said V Narsappa, a former victim who is now chairman of the National Forum Trust India.